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Katherine Watkins first in Millington to win $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Millington Central High teacher brings English literature to life

November 16, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — A trained jazz pianist, published poet, STEM teacher by summer, and English teacher by school year, Katherine Watkins is as well-rounded a teacher as they come. The Renaissance woman that she is, Watkins inspires her students at Millington Central High School in Millington, Tennessee, to look at English-related content from all angles to keep them engaged. She even chronicles her travels abroad and photographs historic places to share with students about locales and legends referenced in many of their class reading assignments.

Today Watkins made history herself as she became the first from Millington Municipal Schools to receive a Milken Educator Award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize. Tennessee Commissioner of Education Dr. Candice McQueen joined Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken to surprise Watkins with the national honor in front of a gymnasium filled with her peers, students, dignitaries and media.

Watkins is among up to 45 honorees who will receive the recognition for 2017-18. She can use the cash prize however she chooses.

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."

"Katherine Watkins knows the value of preparing young people for success in an interconnected world," said Milken. "Literature, and the history it tells, ties us to the generations before us and provides us with the knowledge and tools that inform our own roles in the world around us. Katherine's lessons are beyond educational: They are palpable. I congratulate her on this award and am confident that she will impact the profession for decades to come."

About Milken Educator Katherine Watkins
Katherine Watkins is regarded as a valuable instructional leader and data analyst at Millington Central High School, which serves the military community of NSA Mid-South. On campus, Watkins serves as the English department chair and English 11 Professional Learning Community (PLC) coordinator. There is no greater proof than seeing her in action in her classroom, where her passion for language arts elevates student learning. Whether it's Advanced Placement (AP) English Literature and Composition, Dual Enrollment or 11th-grade Standard English, Watkins creates engaging lessons that underscore literary concepts and writing norms, and develops comprehensive intervention plans that ensure students of all abilities meet their potential.

Literature isn't just read, it's lived. Watkins teaches outside the normal confines of the classroom and applies real-world scenarios that enliven and capture students' interest. A published poet herself, Watkins chronicles her travels abroad and photographs historic places to share with students about locales and legends referenced in many of their class reading assignments. She also enjoys taking her class on a field trip to see a play—an opportunity many of her students would not otherwise get to experience.

Watkins is actively involved on campus sharing her creative skills as yearbook advisor and her academic knowledge as the National Honor Society (NHS) advisor and co-coach of the Knowledge Bowl. As a member of the school leadership team, she helps write pacing guides for the school's curriculum. Eager to learn, Watkins seeks ways to enhance her teaching methods and skills. She takes the state Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM) rubric seriously as a tool to consistently reflect on her practices and obtain constructive feedback. Outside of school, she attended AP training courses in order to improve student scores and understanding. A believer in a well-rounded education, Watkins spends summers teaching at a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) summer camp for middle school students and is a trained jazz pianist.

Watkins earned a Bachelor of Arts in English, cum laude, from Rhodes College in 2007, and a Master of Science in Literature and Modernity from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2009.

More information about Watkins, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at Earlier today in Knoxville, Paula Franklin, an American Government teacher at West High School, also received a Milken Educator Award. Information about her is located here:

"It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state," said McQueen. "Katherine Watkins and Paula Franklin should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce."

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, Watkins' 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 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.

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.