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Kansas Science Teacher wins $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Heidi Albin of Maize encourages students to explore the world around them through a scientific lens

November 09, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif.,— Hatching chicklets, working side-by-side with retirement home residents in a community garden, and playing with Kinsey the therapy dog are just a few of the ways that Complete High School Maize science teacher Heidi Albin keeps her students engaged. Albin believes the key to her students' success is giving them a look at the practical applications of sciences like ecology, biology, and sustainability.

Today, Albin was surprised in front of her peers, students, and high-ranking members of the Kansas State Department of Education when Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley presented her with a 2017 Milken Educator Award. The honor comes with a $25,000 cash prize. Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson and Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis celebrated with Albin and the Complete High School Maize students.

Heidi Albin is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Kansas this year, and is among up to 45 honorees who will receive this national recognition 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 also 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."

In addition to teaching her students to fall in love with science, Albin works to make sure they are prepared for the next phases of life. Sensing the anxiety students felt surrounding their futures, Albin helps each student create individualized plans of study that include classes to take, potential careers, guest speakers, job shadows and interview preparation skills.

"Working with students to achieve their goals outside the classroom is one of the hallmarks of a great educator," said Foley, herself a 1994 Milken Educator from Indiana. "Heidi Albin not only sparks a passion for science in her students, but also puts them on a path to become productive citizens. She is literally changing lives."

"Heidi Albin is a great example of Kansas' outstanding teachers," said Watson. "She is an amazing young educator, and the relationships and bonds she creates with her students are remarkable. She truly has a passion for education. Thank you, Heidi, for all of your hard work and dedication. I also want to thank the Milken Family Foundation for providing us this opportunity to recognize some of Kansas' finest educators."

About Milken Educator Heidi Albin
Bringing science to life is second nature to Heidi Albin, a science teacher at Complete High School Maize (CHSM), an alternative school that educates students in grades 9-12 who struggled in a traditional high school setting. Albin's effect, permeating beyond the classroom walls and into the school's culture, is changing lives.

Her first priority is to make her students scientists. Albin designed a self-paced, multi-science curricula with numerous programs and real-life experiences that deeply engage them while teaching ownership, responsibility and character. Her community garden enables students and their "partners"—retirement home residents—to work side-by-side and learn gardening skills and ecology. An agricultural program, including chick hatching and husbandry, demonstrates biology, while her partnership with WILD Kansas (a student organization focusing on outdoor education activities) promotes the environment and conservation. When surveyed, 23 percent of her students said they were interested in science before taking her class. That percentage increased to 82 percent after experiencing Albin's innovative instruction and activities.

Additionally, Albin set aside a service day for students to volunteer within the community, and fundraised to acquire Kinsey, a therapy dog, as an opportunity to help students cope with depression and anxiety. Loving and being loved by Kinsey has unified students and teachers, leading to a less stressful environment aiding in academic success and student retention.

When Albin discovered students lacked hope about their future, she implemented an individualized plan of study for each student that included classes to take, potential careers, guest speakers, job shadows and interview preparation skills. Not only did the students' future perceptions and self-worth develop, so did concrete parts of their learning such as improved attendance, reduced dropouts and increased graduation rates. Ninety-five percent of her students graduate high school and 92 percent are either employed or enrolled in higher education five years after graduation.

Albin's initiatives make a difference in her school, district and across the state. She shares her science curriculum with other schools in the district and statewide, and co-authored "186 Days of Curriculum," a yearlong, cross-curricular and character-building program she implemented at CHSM, which the state shared with hundreds of educators throughout Kansas to adopt. Albin has presented at state and national conferences about her science curriculum and character-building programs.

Albin received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. In 2009, she earned a Bachelor of Science in biology, cum laude, with an emphasis on cellular molecular biology and a minor in chemistry. In 2013, she obtained a Master of Science in education.

More information about Albin, 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, Albin's 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 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 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 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 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.