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Laura Cole's Belief in Her Math Students' Abilities is Unyielding, Leading to Their Success and Her $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Kentucky students' math scores at Scott High School lead the district

February 26, 2020

SANTA MONICA, Calif., – Kentucky high school teacher Laura Cole instills confidence in her math students through her unwavering belief in their skills. Their strong academic results prove it: Cole has elevated student performance in numeracy and literacy at Scott High School, and her students' standardized test scores lead the Kenton County School District. 

But today was a celebration of Cole's own achievements as she was named a 2019-20 recipient of a Milken Educator Award in a surprise ceremony before students, faculty and community leaders. Presenting the Award were Kentucky Interim Commissioner of Education Kevin Brown, First Lady Britainy Beshear and Milken Educator Awards Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher. The national recognition comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Cole is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Kentucky this year and is among 40 honorees for 2019-20.

With unflagging enthusiasm, Cole elevates student performance by avoiding a "one size fits all" approach to teaching. Since students tend to grasp mathematical concepts at varying speeds, Cole groups her students by similar skill sets.

Committed to reaching every student, Cole searches for details about each pupil's math abilities, academic interests and outside activities before the school year even begins. Then, armed with this intel, she determines student teams based on individual data, and utilizes online tutorials and Google Classroom throughout the year. Her hands-on involvement doesn't cease at the end of the school day. On weekends, she helps students prepare for the ACT, encouraging them to aim high as they prepare for college and beyond.

Cole is equally involved with the Scott High School teaching staff. Along with running the math department's professional learning community, she serves on the school's decision-making council, and spends significant time on professional development, regularly mentoring student teachers and colleagues. As an innovator, she was among the first teachers to adopt a new learning culture when the district moved toward strategies to engage all students in quality tasks and collaborative learning.

"To grasp the impact Laura Cole has made on education, it's important to look beyond the halls of Scott High School," said Gallagher. "She's improved student performance at the school while also being actively involved in districtwide efforts. We welcome the addition of her talent and energy to the National Milken Educator Network." 

"It is an incredible honor to be here as we celebrate our most valuable educational resource—our hardworking, dedicated teachers," said Kentucky Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown. "The work is not always easy and the days are often long. But our Kentucky educators work tirelessly to ensure all students meet high expectations and acquire the skills and knowledge they will need to be successful in life." 

"On behalf of the Kenton County School District, we extend our congratulations on this well-deserved award," said Dr. Henry Webb, superintendent of Kenton County School District. "Her impact in the classroom can never fully be measured, and she has helped build a community of stronger, more compassionate learners." 

Indeed, Cole's achievements transcend the boundaries of her school. Through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cole helped teachers across the district implement math standards and teaching strategies through workshops, classroom visits and modeling lessons via video. Additionally, she has led training at the school, district, regional and state levels and has presented at the Southern Regional Education Board annual meeting. 

"Through her relentless pursuit of improving the lives of the students at Scott High School, Laura Cole's contributions to our community extend far beyond the classroom," said Dr. Brennon Sapp, principal of Scott High School. 

Cole earned a bachelor's in mathematics in 2006 and a master's in math education in 2007 from the University of Kentucky. 

More information about Cole, 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 2,800 top teachers, principals, and specialists dedicated to strengthening education. 

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2019-20 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis from March 26-28, 2020 where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education. In addition, the Milken Educator Awards' "Why Not Us" program will pair each 2019-20 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. 

More than $140 million in funding, including $70 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 are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.

The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even on 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. Everyone is encouraged to watch the tour at,, and

For more information, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

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

The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. The Awards, created by Lowell Milken, 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. 

Along with the $25,000 financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

Eric Lindbom 
(323) 497-0151 cell;