Press Releases    All Press Releases


Nederland Teacher Makes History as First in District to Receive $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Local educator among up to 40 outstanding recipients nationwide

February 09, 2023

Nederland, Texas  — There's no doubt that Jenna Dean is one of Nederland Independent School District's hometown heroes. A fourth grade teacher at Helena Park Elementary School, Dean graduated from the district herself, then returned home to teach the community's next generation of young learners. For her innovative work in the classroom and leadership in the community, she was surprised at a vibrant school assembly earlier today with the nation's preeminent education award – the Milken Educator Award – and a check for $25,000 to spend however she wishes. Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley was joined by Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to present Dean with the prestigious recognition in front of the school’s students, colleagues and administrators as well as state and district leaders. 

"Whether they're making s'mores at school, conceptualizing their 'dream home' or planning for a trip to NASA, Jenna's students learn through hands-on applications of math and science in the classroom. What a wonderful way to make education come to life!" said Dr. Foley, who is herself a 1994 Indiana Milken Educator. "Jenna is truly a light in her community: from student, to graduate, to teacher and community leader, she has made her corner of the world a better place, and for that, we honor her today." 

Created by Lowell Milken, the Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The specific states and schools on this year's winners' list remain a closely guarded secret until each Award is announced. 

"Teachers are the single most important in-school factor impacting student outcomes," said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. "It's why I’m honored to join the Milken Family Foundation in celebrating and rewarding Jenna, an exceptional educator in every possible way. Your service to your students and the Nederland community is a shining example that your impact goes well beyond the walls of your classroom. Congratulations and thank you for what you do." 

Dean is among up to 40 elementary educators across the nation who will receive the Milken Educator Award during the 2022-2023 school year. On top of today's celebration, Dean will have the opportunity to join the national Milken Educator Network of more than 2,900 and growing of exceptional K-12 educators and leaders across the country. Honorees receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles this April. 

Since the initiative's inception in 1987, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual Awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers. 

More About Jenna Dean 

Student-Led Learning Yields Results: In Dean's fourth grade classroom, students take charge of their learning. Dean uses research-based practices to tap into each student's strengths and build capacity in areas of challenge. Visitors to Dean's classroom see students using manipulatives, researching on laptops and working on projects as Dean consults with small groups or coaches students individually. She continually searches for innovative ways to bring content to life and incorporates hands-on STEM activities into lessons. Students learn about heat and energy transfer making s'mores using pizza boxes, aluminum foil and sunlight, and they explore concepts like area and perimeter as they design their "dream homes." Dean extends students' discovery- and inquiry-based learning opportunities off-campus, planning field trips to NASA, a local medical facility to learn about germs, radiation and ultrasound, and the local Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum, which commemorates the discovery of oil in 1901 in nearby Beaumont. Dean sparks a love of learning and holds high expectations, reminding her students that they can do hard things. And they do – in 2022, even after pandemic learning interruptions, 98% of the 4th grade math students passed the state's STAAR assessments for math, with 50% of them reaching mastery. 

Mentors, Trains and Coaches Colleagues: Dean serves as grade-level chair and has stepped in for Helena Park's principal during absences and over the summer. She helps develop the master schedule, places students in appropriate interventions, and leads the school's data efforts, including growth tracking, student conferences, setting goals and organizing celebrations for meeting growth targets. Dean has served on numerous committees, including the district’s academics committee, where she helped develop guidelines, train colleagues and implement new virtual learning technology as buildings reopened in fall 2020. She has led professional development about educational technology and embracing a growth mindset, worked with the Texas Education Agency to review new questions for the grade four math STAAR, and is planning for the alignment and enrichment of Helena Park's math and science curriculum as the school prepares to add fifth graders in 2023-24. Dean mentors new teachers and education students from nearby Lamar University, her alma mater. Many of her mentees have gone on to successful careers in education, with several joining Nederland ISD straight out of school. 

Inclusive Approach to Education Supports All Students: Dean concentrates on meeting the needs of the whole child, focusing on students' social and emotional growth alongside academics. She advocated for the school to adopt Class Tag for parent communication because it allows for easy messaging in multiple languages, especially Spanish and Vietnamese. Dean is a hometown hero: She is a Nederland ISD graduate, teaches dance at a local studio and is active in her church community. 

Education: Dean is a graduate of Lamar University, earning a bachelor's in interdisciplinary studies in 2015 and a master's in educational administration in 2020. 

More About the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

Along with the financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 and growing of exemplary teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

  • The honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles this April, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education. 
  • In addition, they will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFF) mentoring program, in which new Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • "We find you. You don't find us!" Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards initiative has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. The most exceptional candidates are recommended for the Award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation. 
  • The $25,000 cash Award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. For instance, some have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.   

To receive regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events or to watch the Award events unfold, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook (@MilkenEducatorAwards), Twitter (@Milken), YouTube (/MilkenAward), Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn), and TikTok (@MilkenAward). 

For more information, visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772. 

About the Milken Educator Awards
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. Created by Lowell Milken, 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. The Milken Family Foundation celebrates more than 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at