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Student-led learning + character building = $25,000 Milken Award for St. Francisville Math and Science Teacher Stephanie Whetstone
Bains Elementary fifth-grade teacher is first-ever Milken winner from West Feliciana Parish
January 24, 2019
SANTA MONICA, Calif., — In Stephanie Whetstone's fifth-grade math and science classes at St. Francisville's Bains Elementary School, students are the stars. Yet the limelight was all Whetstone's today as she became Louisiana's 2018-2019 Milken Educator and the first from West Feliciana Parish Schools in the Award's 30-year history.
The Milken Family Foundation presented the honor—which comes with a $25,000 no-strings-attached cash prize—during a surprise all-school assembly attended by First Lady Donna Edwards, State Assistant Superintendent Hannah Dietsch, West Feliciana Parish Schools Superintendent Hollis Milton, faculty, colleagues, students and community leaders.
"Stephanie Whetstone has a gift for reaching the whole child, and she infuses her passion for real-world learning in everything she does," said Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley, herself a Milken Educator (IN '94) who traveled from California to make the announcement. "Stephanie's students will know how to meet the demands of today's global economy and understand the value of being responsible, caring and respectful citizens. Stephanie's leadership and ability to connect with colleagues, students and parents alike make her a valuable asset to Bains and the broader community. I look forward to her contributions to the Milken Educator Network of excellence."
Whetstone is among 33 honorees nationwide to receive the prestigious recognition for the 2018-19 season.
"It's our responsibility to build a strong academic foundation, particularly in core subjects like math and science, to help our students achieve lifelong success. Stephanie Whetstone is helping her students do this every day," said Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White. "We are proud to call her a Louisiana educator."
"From growing student achievement to mentoring her peers to hosting after-school activities to engage parents, Stephanie Whetstone goes above and beyond to support her students and her school community," added Dietsch. "We can all learn from her leadership and her commitment."
Research shows teacher quality is the number one in-school factor determining how well a student performs. The Milken Educator Awards, named by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," 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."
"Going above and beyond perfectly describes Stephanie Whetstone's efforts to help each student reach his or her full potential," said Milton. "Combining hard work and belief in her students, Stephanie Whetstone inspires her students to give their best every day. A true difference maker, Stephanie Whetstone represents what is best about our school system and our community."
About Milken Educator Stephanie Whetstone
Step into Stephanie Whetstone's fifth-grade classroom at Bains Elementary School in Louisiana's West Feliciana Parish and you'll find students spread out on the floor, balancing on stability balls or working at standing desks while Whetstone teaches a small group at her horseshoe-shaped table. Whetstone leaves no student behind in her science and math lessons, using a combination of small groups, individualized instruction and common formative assessments. That's how she identifies students in need, diagnoses the misunderstanding and helps them meet their targets.
Bains is a Leader in Me Lighthouse School, with building school culture centered around the program's "Seven Habits of Happy Kids." An early adopter, Whetstone embraces these habits and reinforces them in her classroom. Her students take responsibility for their learning and behavior, and they understand her expectations. Peer instruction plays a large part in Whetstone's classroom, and she insists that students learn how to teach and learn from each other. Her methods work: Under Whetstone's guidance, students' scores on Louisiana's LEAP (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program) tests rose from 75.3 to 94.8 in math and from 77.3 to 87.9 in science.
Whetstone is the Key Teacher for fifth grade and has served on the data team, Field Day committee, DIBELS testing team, Lighthouse team, Think Tank, and student-led achievement action team. She tutors students after school, leads summer remediation programs, mentors novice teachers, and has been the Teacher Leader Representative for the Louisiana Department of Education.
Whetstone and her teaching partner piloted student-led conferences with their students; they were so successful that every Bains student now leads at least one conference each year. To make her colleagues' adoption of the process easier, Whetstone built a sample student binder and filmed her own conferences as well as shared her tips on planning, conducting and evaluating the conference process with the faculty. When parents weren't able to attend, Whetstone brought in a teacher, counselor or administrator to participate.
Parents know Whetstone will keep them up to date on their students' progress and welcome her frequent communications. She views them as partners in their children's learning. When the school adopted Eureka Math, Whetstone took the initiative in helping parents understand the new curriculum. She created guides and study sheets, then led a Eureka Parent Night to walk them through a lesson so they would be able to support their children at home. Students know they can count on Whetstone as both a teacher and cheerleader. She attends their flag football games and writes individualized notes to students for every holiday, highlighting their strengths and telling them she believes in them. Most important, Whetstone tells her students she knows they will succeed; for her, leadership skills and academics go hand in hand.
Whetstone earned a bachelor's in humanities and social sciences from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2007.
More information about Whetstone, plus links to photos and video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at http://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/stephanie-whetstone.
Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Along with 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, Louisiana, 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 www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawards, www.twitter.com/milken, www.youtube.com/milkenaward, and http://instagram.com/milkenfamilyfdn.
For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org 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 over 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.