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Massachusetts' "next Bill Nye" wins $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Lawrence science star Dan Adler surprised in front of students, faculty and visiting dignitaries 

November 01, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — The singing voices of Dan Adler's sixth-grade science students can be heard echoing through the halls of UP Academy Leonard in Lawrence Public Schools. Adler routinely uses science-themed lyrics of contemporary songs and games to inspire students to love science, like a young Bill Nye.

Today, Adler received the surprise of his life when Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley presented him with a 2017-18 Milken Educator Award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize. Massachusetts Acting Education Commissioner Jeff Wulfson and Lawrence Public Schools Superintendent Jeffrey C. Riley joined the celebration to recognize this exceptional educator before a crowd of cheering students, colleagues and visiting dignitaries.

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."

Adler is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Massachusetts this year and the first from Lawrence Public Schools. He is among up to 45 honorees who will receive this national recognition for 2017-18.

"Leadership is a key quality we look for in a Milken Educator, and Dan Adler demonstrates leadership in a wide range of strategies," said Foley, herself a 1994 Milken Educator from Indiana. "From curriculum development and professional learning to mentoring and amplifying his voice in education policy, Mr. Adler consistently goes the extra mile to move the needle for his students and the school at large. I am confident he will be an excellent asset to our national Milken Educator Network."

"In addition to Mr. Adler's remarkable work inside the classroom, he has found time to collaborate with other educators on curriculum projects and education policy," Wulfson said. "He is the definition of a teacher leader."

"I've said it many times before, but it's impossible to repeat enough: Great teachers are the single most important piece of providing students with a great education," said Riley. "We're incredibly proud that the Milken Foundation is recognizing Dan Adler—one of our great teachers—with this honor."

The state's governor and lieutenant governor were quick to sing Adler's praises.

"We are extremely proud of Mr. Adler and congratulate him on this distinct national recognition," said Governor Charlie Baker. "Massachusetts leads the country in education because of teachers like Mr. Adler who work with their fellow faculty to engage students with challenging curriculum to prepare them for successful careers in the classroom and beyond."

"The Commonwealth is fortunate to have great teachers like Mr. Adler who inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math," said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, co-chair of the Massachusetts STEM Advisory Council. "His tireless commitment to Lawrence students and the UP Academy Leonard Middle is a model for all of us."  

About Milken Educator Dan Adler
Dan Adler, who teaches sixth-grade science at UP Academy Leonard (UAL) in Lawrence, wants to be the next Bill Nye, a pop culture icon with a mission to inspire kids to love science. It's not uncommon for Adler to channel his inner rock star in class, belting out contemporary melodies with his own original, science-themed lyrics. An advocate for science whose joy and intensity are infectious, Adler uses games like charades and Simon Says to keep students engaged. He is known for reaching out to UAL's most at-risk scholars to move them forward.

UAL is a high-poverty turnaround school. Ninety-six percent of the students are Hispanic, 82 percent do not have English as their first language and 35 percent are English language learners. Adler's students are achieving a mastery average above 80 percent on rigorous summative assessments in science, which are linked to Massachusetts state standards.

Specifically, Adler incorporates Kagan Cooperative Learning structures and works on reading comprehension using articles about science. For his annual schoolwide Service Fair, students research a problem in their community and deliver a presentation to fellow students, teachers and prominent guests. Committed to helping all students learn, Adler sets classwide mastery targets; Students who fall short on weekly quizzes aligned with end-unit exams work with him or student tutors until everyone meets the goal. After school, he can be found attending sporting events, cheering on scholar athletes, visiting with families, and helping students in the stands with homework as they wait for siblings or their turn to compete. Adler mentors all his former scholars, many of whom come back to meet with him after they move on to high school and beyond.

A sixth-grade cohort leader, Adler has had a powerful influence on UAL's science curriculum, pushing the entire science department to adopt "argumentation" as a focus in writing and regularly collaborating with seventh- and eighth-grade science teachers. He was instrumental in helping UAL win a national grant to update its science lab facilities. Adler has served on the school's teacher leadership team, presented at the UP Education Summit, mentored new teachers, led schoolwide professional development, and developed curriculum that is being used by most of the sixth-grade science teachers in the UP Education Network. He earned a Teach Plus Policy Fellowship and leads content learning teams for members of Teach for America, of which he is an alumnus. Adler was a key author of a policy paper that inspired Massachusetts State Representative Alice Peisch, chair of the Committee on Education, to file legislation supporting teacher preparation.

Adler earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in history and molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale in 2007. After working in the nonprofit and private sectors, he chose to enter teaching full-time to maximize his impact on bettering the lives of others. Adler received a Master of Education in curriculum and teaching from Boston University in 2014. He lives in Cambridge.

More information about Adler, 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, Adler'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.