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Maple Heights Math Teacher Maria Rodgers earns $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Rodgers of Maple Heights City Schools brings her lessons to life

January 10, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Maria Rodgers, a math teacher at Milkovich Middle School in Maple Heights, wears many hats. Through her 12 years as an educator in Maple Heights City Schools, she has been known to coordinate her lesson plans with her outfits, coming in one day in a bee costume and another as a drill sergeant, running a "boot camp" complete with games and learning stations to prepare students for a state assessment. It's all part of her approach to help students better conceptualize mathematical ideas through activities that keep them engaged.

Though she loves highlighting her students' accomplishments, today was Rodgers' turn in the spotlight. In front of a gymnasium packed with her students, peers, visiting dignitaries and media, Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Administrator Greg Gallagher, joined by Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria, surprised Rodgers as a recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award.

Rodgers is among 44 honorees for 2017-18 to receive the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000. She is the only Ohioan to receive the award this 2017-18 season and the first from Maple Heights City Schools.

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."

"No matter what or where you may be in life, one constant remains: Math is all around us. Maria Rodgers illustrates the practical applications of math every day and ensures her students have those skills necessary to excel," said Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation. "I thank Maria for choosing teaching as her chosen profession and look forward to her contributions to our national network of excellence."

"Maria Rodgers has so much of what makes an effective, highly valuable teacher: inventiveness, a talent for making learning fun, the professional range to teach many kinds of students, and leadership skills that promote high performance and community engagement in her school and district," said DeMaria. "Maria is a great example of what can happen when we give teachers the opportunities and conditions they need to succeed."

About Milken Educator Maria Rodgers
Math teacher Maria Rodgers goes the extra mile to fully engage her students. Rodgers arrives at her classroom at Milkovich Middle School in Maple Heights, Ohio, dressed as a waitress when students are working on "order" of operations. Other accessories include a grass skirt, a wizard hat or a Queen Bee costume—always related to the lesson at hand. When her previous school, Barack Obama School in the same district, developed a "boot camp" to prepare students for a state assessment, Rodgers showed up in full Army fatigues and put 150 fourth- and fifth-graders through their paces for three hours with games, learning stations and modules.

Rodgers has taught every level from struggling learners to gifted. She pioneered the concept of individualized growth targets and differentiated goal-setting at Milkovich, making little "fat heads" for every student and pinning them on the wall with data charts; every building in the district has since followed her lead. In a largely-minority school with many transient families, Rodgers' students are head of the class: 92% pass state math assessments, and they are making significant gains in value-added achievement growth. Always seeking to be ahead of the curve, Rodgers teaches an elementary summer intervention program to get to know future students and prepare her instruction.

Rodgers serves on building- and district-level committees for both instruction and day-to-day school operations. She has been involved in Milkovich's continuous improvement efforts, leading changes in the school's attendance policy and curriculum in both reading and math. Rodgers presents professional development, speaks at school board meetings, is developing performance-based assessments, and mentors new teachers. Using the "No Nonsense Nurturing" model Milkovich adopted more than a year ago, Rodgers coaches other teachers on how to create a positive learning climate. In partnership with The Schlechty Center, she has convened groups that include students, parents, teachers and community members to help Milkovich increase student engagement. Rodgers' Pathfinders program celebrating diversity and African-American culture has become a community favorite. Each year, the district's top 20 graduating seniors honor their most influential teachers; though most name high school educators, Rodgers is regularly included on the list.

Rodgers is a graduate of the University of Akron, earning a bachelor's degree in 2005 and a master's in 2011.

More information about Rodgers, 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, Rodgers' 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 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 about the Milken Educator Awards, 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 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.