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Jessica Villanueva First in Fairfield-Suisun Unified to Receive Milken Educator Award and $25,000

Suisun Elementary second-grade teacher plays vital role in moving school forward

February 03, 2017

Santa Monica, Calif. — An all-school assembly welcoming California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson turned into the surprise of a lifetime for Suisun Elementary second-grade teacher Jessica Villanueva. Today Villanueva became the first Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District teacher to earn the Milken Educator Award, whose honor comes with a $25,000 cash prize that she could use however she chooses.

Villanueva is among up to 35 honorees who will receive the prestigious recognition nationwide for 2016-17. This season marks the initiative's 30th year changing the lives of outstanding educators.

Torlakson joined Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley in presenting the Award to Villanueva, alongside Fairfield-Suisun Unified Superintendent Kris Corey.

"Jessica Villanueva focuses on meeting the individual needs of her students, maximizing the opportunity to reach their full potential," said Foley, who is also a 1994 Indiana Milken Educator. "Her determination to help teachers and students thrive is woven into everything she does, from mentoring colleagues and leading building-level teams to welcoming parents and families into the school community. I congratulate Jessica and look forward to her contributions to the national Milken Educator Network."

"I am so pleased to congratulate such a terrific teacher for receiving a Milken Award," said Torlakson. "Jessica does a fantastic job every day for her students. She is a role model for teachers all over our great state."

"This Milken Educator Award is an honor for Fairfield-Suisun Unified and especially for this school," said Corey. "Jessica Villanueva has dedicated years to Suisun Elementary and has such compassion and devotion for kids. Students look up to her and colleagues appreciate and respect her. It is an honor to have her represent Fairfield-Suisun Unified in California and throughout the nation."

An important way that Villanueva prepares her second-graders for the future is integrating technology into her classroom. Her students use Google Slides to put together presentations and iMovie to create book trailers promoting their favorite stories. All along, students learn research skills, collaborate with their peers, and hone their public speaking skills as they present their work to the class, parents and community members.

Villanueva reinforces the Teach 4 Success strategies used throughout the high-need K-5 school, engaging students in academic conversations, checking in frequently to assess their understanding, facilitating student interactions, maintaining student engagement, and differentiating instruction. Her class activities include fun, hands-on problem-solving strategies that students will carry with them throughout their learning and in the real world.

Villanueva's background in special education helps her meet all learners' needs in her current general education classroom. She plans lessons so they are accessible to all learners and volunteers to take students with academic and behavioral challenges into her class, where they blossom and thrive. All of Villanueva's students show academic growth each year in reading, writing and mathematics. When the school piloted Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments for English Language Arts (ELA) and math, Villanueva's students turned in some of the highest scores.

Highly respected by the school community, Villanueva serves on the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) team, leads the teachers in her grade level, and participates in the district's Units of Instruction Revising committee. She has participated in English Language Development (ELD) implementation teams, planned and presented professional development showcasing her renowned classroom management techniques, and supported the school's transition to a Trauma-Informed School.

A district mentor teacher who advises new teachers both at her grade level and in special education, Villanueva invites parents and community members into her classroom on a regular basis, where they read to students, provide administrative support and lead PTA events. Villanueva helps students run the school's CIA (Character In Action) store every Friday and has built partnerships with local restaurants, businesses and libraries. Parents request her for their children, and her students come back to visit her year after year.

Villanueva earned a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) in elementary education and special education in 2007 from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

More information about Villanueva, 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. Besides the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Villanueva's honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top principals, teachers and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2016-17 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum, March 23-25, 2017, in New Orleans. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about the importance of 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 program, which includes powerful professional development 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.

Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then 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.

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.