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Subtracting students' math phobias adds up to a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for teacher Kristen Lents

Students leap ahead at Brownsburg, Indiana's Harris Academy

January 23, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Transforming students from math phobic to math friendly is a complex social equation, but it's one that Indiana teacher Kristen Lents is solving every day. Working at Brownsburg's non-traditional high school, Harris Academy, Lents helps reluctant learners overcome their fear of a math planet through data-driven individualized learning plans. Her students' success is leading to academic excellence for math underachievers with 98% of her students earning their math credit and her algebra students averaging a nearly 40% improvement in their test scores.

But it was Lents who scored big this morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award. Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick and Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley named Lents a 2017-18 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Lents is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Indiana this year, and is among the 44 honorees for 2017-18.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching" has been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America's next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, "The future belongs to the educated."

Lents engages students by creating math lessons with built-in real-world relevance and incorporating project-based learning, goal-oriented strategies and deftly deployed technology into her classes. Lents' multipronged approach is adaptable in aiding busy teen parents, students with health issues, working students and others with real-life challenges. Her varied approach helps her students gain confidence and competence in math that will serve them as they pursue their goals in higher education and in life. 

"Kristen Lents is a gifted teacher whose greatest gift may be reaching those who are really struggling," said Foley. "Her drive to make math relevant and rewarding to all students is the kind of dedication and service we look for in our Milken Educators. Lents' inclusive and eclectic approach is part of what makes her a world-class teacher."

"Our students and our state are successful because of the hard work and dedication of teachers like Kristen Lents," said McCormick. "Through high quality instruction, Kristin has spent her professional life academically preparing students for the future, and it is my privilege and honor to present Kristen with the Milken Educator Award."

"Brownsburg is very proud of the education our students receive at Harris Academy," said Dr. Jim Snapp, Superintendent of Schools. "Kristen is an exceptional leader in a staff that believes in building relationships to foster academic and personal success for students."

About Milken Educator Kristen Lents
Pictures of teenagers and notes from former students paper the walls of Kristen Lents' classroom at Harris Academy in Brownsburg, Indiana. Lents teaches math at the alternative high school, which serves students in Brownsburg and nearby Avon who face academic and life challenges, including teen parents, students with health issues, those who have to work to support themselves, and reluctant learners with credit deficits. Lents is known for her ability to connect with and motivate math-phobic students who traditionally do not like school. She holds them to the highest standards as she dives deep into data to create individualized learning plans for each student in her class. Lents' students deliver for her: 98% of her students earned their math credits last year, and 57% who retook the Algebra I end-of-course assessment passed, exceeding the school's target and showing a 39-point mean improvement.

Lents tirelessly pursues strategies and techniques designed to engage her students and make math instruction more relevant to their world outside school. When Harris Academy adopted project-based learning, Lents designed a project in which students used Excel spreadsheets and manual calculations to compare cell phone plans, using Algebra I standards like equations and graphing. Lents works with students to not just hone their algebra skills but also to build their confidence, laying a foundation that will help them succeed in quantitative courses as they further their studies. She has taken the lead in the school’s advisory program, designing a curriculum for goal-setting and career planning; students know she believes in them, their abilities, and their potential for a great future.

Regarded as a leader by her peers, Lents mentors new teachers and leads Harris Academy's remediation program and math professional learning community. She is involved in professional development both at Harris Academy and at Brownsburg High School (BHS). Lents secured a grant to obtain licenses for IXL Math, an online skill-building tool that has helped her target and individualize instruction for her students; BHS has now incorporated the program into its math curriculum as well.

Lents earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics education from Oakland City University in 2009.

More information about Lents, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Lents' honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2017-18 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., March 20-23, 2018. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional learning opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children's education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at,,, and

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 30 years ago in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

Jana Rausch
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