Press Releases    All Press Releases


Kansas 5th Grade Teacher First in Nation to Receive 2018-19 Milken Educator Award, $25,000 Cash Prize

Topeka area teacher uses everything from candy bar math to innovative colonial education to raise student interest and test scores at Berryton Elementary

October 12, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Whether she's having students slice up candy bars to learn about fractions or take sides in a hands-on history lesson about the Boston Massacre, 5th grade teacher Linda Dishman knows the power of encouragement, engagement and concrete projects in her Berryton, Kansas classroom. Creating a safe, supportive and structured environment where students can take risks and succeed is working wonders for them, 88% of whom perform at or above grade level in math.

But her students aren't the only overachievers here, as evidenced by Dishman being given a Milken Educator Award this morning at a surprise school assembly. Presented the Award by Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Lowell Milken and Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson, an excited Dishman was named the nation's first 2018-19 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Kansas this year, and is among up to 40 honorees for 2018-19.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching" has been opening minds and shaping futures for over 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."

A well-rounded educator with meticulous attention to detail and a robust analytical mind, Dishman has served on school and district leadership teams and has helped implement performance assessments, conceptual mathematics instruction, balanced literacy and growth mindset development. She helps her students set goals and monitor their progress, supporting them with concrete plans to overcome obstacles and help reach their targets. Dishman's classroom is a safe environment that allows students to take risks, experiment and explore. She often reminds her students that "Failure leads to success." It's a powerful positive message of persistence, one that Dishman lives and breathes in her teaching, her staff career development initiatives and her coaching of intramural sports.

"In teaching, one person has the power to make a profound difference in the lives of so many," said Milken. "And great teachers like Linda Dishman amplify that change, building up the confidence, intellectual capacity and future prospects of students in ways that will have long lasting, positive impact on them as individuals and on our society as a whole."

"It is an honor to recognize Linda Dishman as the 2018-2019 Milken Family Foundation Educator," said Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson. "She is a leader in and out of the classroom. Linda values each one of her students and uses hands-on and student-centered activities to teach them. Thank you, Linda, for your dedication in preparing each student for a successful future. I also want to thank the Milken Family Foundation for providing Kansas the opportunity to recognize some of our finest educators."

"Mrs. Dishman is a tremendous teacher who understands both the art and science of teaching," said Dr. Martin Stessman, superintendent of Shawnee Heights USD 450. "Her combination of talent and work ethic makes her successful in reaching all students. She not only educates them; she inspires them to do better and be better."

About Milken Educator Linda Dishman
Linda Dishman, a fifth-grade teacher at Berryton Elementary School in Berryton, Kansas, is a master at marrying content with standards. For the fifth grade's annual study of the Boston Massacre, a 1770 mob attack in colonial Massachusetts, Dishman found primary and secondary documents, developed a plan for students to explore and compare them, and guided the instructional team through marrying the research, writing, reading, listening and social studies standards, as well as developing a rubric for assessment. Students wrote argumentative essays defending the colonists or soldiers based on who they thought were most innocent or most at fault. To address the speaking standards, Dishman staged a town hall-style meeting where students read their essays for the "colonial community."

Dishman's expectations are high, both for students and for herself. She uses manipulatives like bread, candy bars and brownies to teach multiplication and division of fractions, helping students connect math to their real-life experiences. Dishman plans her lessons meticulously and adjusts on the go in response to data, student needs or unexpected roadblocks. She helps fifth-graders set goals and monitor their progress, always supporting them with a concrete plan to help reach their targets. Dishman believes every lesson is important and creates a safe environment in which students can take risks and explore. A familiar mantra in her classroom: "Failure leads to success." And succeed they do. On MAP math assessments in 2017-18, 71% of her students met or exceeded expected growth from fall to spring; 88% scored on or above grade level.

Dishman has served on leadership teams for her building and the Shawnee Heights district, helping to implement conceptual mathematics instruction, balanced literacy and growth mindset development. She took a leadership role in developing performance assessments for the district, presenting professional development and collaborating with grade-level teams as they developed tasks and rubrics. She has presented at math and science conferences and regularly supports pre-service teachers from nearby universities.

Quiet, calm and poised, Dishman builds up her students and colleagues with positive words and encouragement. She tutors students after school and over the summer and coaches intramural volleyball, basketball and track. During Dishman's first year of teaching, a shy student asked her to be her 5K "running buddy" for Girls on the Run, a program she embraced and has coached ever since. Dishman encourages students' emotional and social health and facilitates a "respect circle" each morning to foster community and interpersonal connection. She celebrates students' successes and helps them work through life's disappointments—they know no problem or concern is too small to discuss with her.

Dishman earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education in 2012 from Washburn University and a master's in education as a reading specialist in 2018 from Fort Hays State University.

More information about Dishman, 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, the 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, 2018-19 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans on March 21-24, 2019. 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, 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 31 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.

Lynne Russo 
(818) 903-6079 cell;