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Allison Ruhl of Madison, Mississippi, Builds Literacy Stepping Stones and Wins Milken Educator Award with $25,000

Implementing Reading Strategies for Youngsters Makes the Grade at Madison Station Elementary School and Mississippi Department of Education

January 11, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Trained in early literacy development, first-grade teacher Allison Ruhl builds the educational foundation children need to advance in school, succeed in life and lead the future. During an all-school assembly, Ruhl was bestowed with the prestigious Milken Educator Award for her successful strategies in curriculum development that cultivate young minds from below-grade to above-grade levels. The Milken honor comes with a $25,000 cash prize for her to use as she chooses. Hoots and hollers shook Madison Station Elementary's cafeteria as students cheered the surprise announcement.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and First Lady Deborah Bryant, a children's reading advocate, joined Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley in presenting the Award to Ruhl. Mississippi State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey M. Wright and Madison County Schools Superintendent Dr. Ronnie McGehee, as well as previous Milken Educator recipients, attended the all-star celebration of education.

Ruhl is among up to 35 honorees who will receive the recognition nationwide for 2016-17. Ruhl is the first recipient in Madison County Schools to receive the Milken Educator Award, and the only awardee this year in Mississippi. This season marks the 30th year of the Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching."

"Literacy offers a world of possibilities and fundamentally sets into motion a child's success. It's the gift that keeps on giving," said Foley. "Allison Ruhl equips students with learning skills that help them differentiate and process information. Understanding how to read and write is step one to grasping language, numbers and problem-solving from simple to complex situations. At the first-grade level, Allison's strategies nurture their ability to grow into a fast-paced world."

"I am extremely proud of Ms. Ruhl for winning the Milken Educator Award this year and representing the state of Mississippi so well," said Governor Bryant. "She is an extraordinary teacher and is very deserving of this honor. Her level of dedication for her students and parents is of the highest level."

"Ms. Ruhl has done an exceptional job of serving her students and her school," said Dr. Wright. "She is a wonderful example of our dedicated educators who work tirelessly to help students succeed. Her students, school and community should be proud of this accomplishment."

"We are thrilled that the Milken Family Foundation is recognizing and honoring one of our veteran educators," said Dr. McGehee. "Allison Ruhl is a dynamic classroom instructor who has impacted countless students in her years with Madison County. We are very proud of her accomplishments."

Allison Ruhl is a teacher leader in her school, district and now, the state. Last year, Ruhl applied and was accepted as a K-2 unit writer for the 2016 Kellogg Grant Exemplar Unit Writing on behalf of the Mississippi Department of Education. She spent part of her summer vacation creating a new first- and second-grade language arts curriculum for the state. She devoted two weeks researching best practices, identifying outstanding examples and writing a new multi-week unit that will be available to all Mississippi educators on the department's website. Back at home, Ruhl trained teachers in her school and throughout the district on implementing the units she created.

Ruhl is sought out by colleagues for her innovative ideas, problem-solving skills and visionary perspective. She developed new first-grade assessments for Madison County, then helped implement a similar non-graded report card for another district nearby. She serves as Madison Station's first-grade science and arts coordinator and edits the school's newsletter. Ruhl is known as a team player, ready to share ideas, train other teachers and implement new ideas in the classroom.

Ruhl sets high expectations and differentiates instruction to meet the needs of every student she educates. She creates lessons and organizes field trips that seamlessly blend the reading, writing, language, speaking and listening skills that make up the Mississippi College and Career Ready Standards. Ruhl and her students write in "response journals" to develop and improve their reading and problem-solving skills. By the end of each year, 95% of Ruhl's students meet or exceed grade-level expectations in reading.

Parents are an important piece of the community Ruhl creates in her classroom. She communicates with them daily via a progress chart that lives in each child's designated folder, along with email, phone calls and one-on-one conferences. Ruhl is a leader for Madison Station's parent-teacher events and student celebrations.

Ruhl received a Bachelor of Arts in art history and studio art from Duke University in 1996 and a Master of Education in elementary education from Mississippi College in 2002, both with honors.

More information about Ruhl, 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, Ruhl's honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top principals, teachers and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2016-17 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum, March 23-25, 2017, in New Orleans. 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 program, 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 Awards has no formal nomination or application process. 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 Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, is in its 30th year. 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.