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For making the library cool again, Jennifer Gordon books a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Cambridge librarian teaches students to love books and literacy learning at Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School  

October 16, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — A million miles from the cliché of the square librarian, elementary school educator Jennifer Gordon has actually transformed the library into a cool place to hang out at Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School in Cambridge, MA. Whether she's reading aloud to students, actively engaging them in daily discussion groups or hooking them up with personalized book choices that fit their interests and goals, Gordon boosts literacy learning and a love of books so that student enthusiasm dovetails with the school's educational goals and testing targets for Common Core. What's more, Gordon's eclectic multidisciplinary approach is helping push the school's test scores above state averages.

But it was Gordon who was earning high marks this morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Family Foundation Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley together with Education Commissioner Jeff Riley. An ebullient Gordon was named a 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 Massachusetts this year, and is among the 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."

Employing library savvy and broad educational expertise to prepare students for that future, Gordon coordinates with Banneker's reading and English teachers to find resources that align with the overall curriculum and makes sure students have challenging books that expand their literacy skills. Gordon employs a creative yet down-to-earth approach that students embrace and colleagues learn from as well.

"Jennifer Gordon knows that opening a book can be like opening a golden door of opportunity, prompting young minds to imagine the futures they may one day create," said Foley. "It's a lofty goal and yet a concrete one as well. Working across the educational spectrum with students of all grade levels and abilities, she strives to maximize student potential and make the world a better place one page turn at a time. She's the kind of everyday visionary that we are proud to honor as a Milken Educator."

"Ms. Gordon is a great representative of librarians and media specialists across the Commonwealth who make huge contributions to their students' educations," said Riley. "It's a pleasure to see all of her efforts recognized."

"Our students love to read, and because of that they score exceptionally high on the ELA MCAS," said Shelley Bretous, executive director of Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School. "Jennifer Gordon makes reading come to life for our students. They all want to read with as much passion and fun as she does."

About Milken Educator Jennifer Gordon
Handwritten cards cover the large, three-dimensional tree that adorns one wall of the library at Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Librarian Jennifer Gordon asks students to fill the cards with their hopes and dreams for their lives and futures. Gordon pores over the cards to help her recommend books that she hopes will resonate with students and spark a lifelong love of learning. She goes to great lengths to celebrate books and reading, posting students' book reviews and decorated book jackets outside the library and creating comfortable nooks for discussion. Gordon encourages her young readers to write to celebrated authors like Mo Willems; the authors often write back, much to students' delight. Walk into the library when Gordon is reading to a class and you'll see a fully engaged group of students, waving their hands eagerly to answer her follow-up questions with reasoned, well-thought-out comments. Banneker's students flock to Gordon at lunchtime and consider her "the cool teacher." Whatever she does, whether it's reading or camping or skiing, they want to be part of it.

Gordon collaborates with Banneker's English Language Acquisition (ELA) and reading teachers to piggyback on their curriculum and put the right resources in their hands. All of her lessons and units are based on the rigorous Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and align with Banneker's overall goals of educating the whole child. She makes sure students have books that stretch them and help to expand their skills. Gordon works with small reading groups in the mornings, both to challenge advanced readers and supplement those who need help. She chairs the specialists’ cluster team, leads professional development, mentors new teachers and works with colleagues to develop a classroom culture that includes problem-solving and kinesthetic learning. And it's working: The school’s MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) ELA scores are among the top in the state.

Gordon plays a key role in the Banneker community. She leads the Adventure Club, which takes fifth- and sixth-graders on monthly outdoor excursions. Gordon helps students fundraise and serves as chaperone for the school's annual sixth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., building-in literacy learning before and during the trip. She created a maker space, coordinates Field Day and daily morning announcements, is an active member in the school band and runs book clubs for younger students. When former students drop by, they make a beeline for the library to tell Gordon about all the books they've read.

Gordon earned a bachelor's in English from Worcester State College in 2000, and a master's in library science from Simmons College in 2002.

More information about Gordon, 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 
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