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Empowering Students Earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Teacher Margaret Hersey

Massachusetts educator amps up engagement and raises test scores of ninth graders at Springfield Honors Academy

December 04, 2019

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Putting students in charge of their classes seems a dicey proposition at best. But that's exactly what English teacher Margaret Hersey often does, to great effect at the Springfield Honors Academy in Springfield, MA. Her project-oriented classes let student groups lead class lessons and discussions on a rotating basis while Hersey guides the group from the back row when necessary. Giving learners agency and responsibility for their own education is paying great dividends: her students showed 510% improvement on Measures of Academic Progress tests in her first year at the school. Informally connecting student study to the greater world outside, Hersey takes students on hikes into the nearby mountains and makes treks to local art galleries whenever possible. By fueling student engagement, spurring critical thinking and promoting cross-disciplinary studies, Hersey paves the way for student success academically and in the wider world beyond.

Yet it was Hersey who was rising up today at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher and Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey C. Riley. Hersey was named a 2019-20 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 up to 40 honorees for 2019-20.

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." 

Hersey is bringing that future closer for her students with diverse literature and writing assignments that welcome input and commentary from all student perspectives. Literally putting the "arts" in English Language Arts education, Hersey created a class in demystifying the arts to broaden the horizons of her students. She's also creating growth opportunities for colleagues in her role as teacher leader of curriculum and professional development at Springfield Honors.

"A great educator like Margaret Hersey knows that the essence of teaching is showing students how to become agents of change in their own lives," said Gallagher. "Margaret's creative thinking and generous spirit are key to helping students develop their own pathways to change and higher learning. We're proud to welcome her as a Milken Educator."

"This award celebrates all the work teachers like Ms. Hersey do for their students every day," said Riley. "Like many Massachusetts educators, her dedication extends beyond the classroom to leading an afterschool club for students and curriculum work with her colleagues."

"Ms. Hersey is a wonderful representative of Springfield's teachers, whose dedication and creativity are changing students' lives every day," said Springfield Superintendent Daniel J. Warwick. "I'm glad that her students saw her recognized in this way, and I hope that some of them will consider becoming teachers, too."

About Milken Educator Margaret Hersey

In Margaret Hersey's ninth-grade English classroom at Springfield Honors Academy in Massachusetts, the learners are often in charge. Each week a different team of students creates questions and runs the Socratic seminar-style discussions while their teacher observes from a desk at the back of the room. Hersey challenges her students by trusting them with elevated conversations, complex projects and provocative texts that students find relatable and engaging. She goes out of her way to add diversity to the reading list with books like "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros and "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas. The school is only in its third year, but students are making great progress. Though many came from underperforming middle schools with significant deficits in reading and writing, Hersey’s students achieved a 510% gain on MAP assessments in the school's first year.

Hersey taught AP Art History at her previous school, so in addition to teaching English Language Arts classes at Springfield Honors, Hersey created a class called "Demystification of the Arts." She integrates art and literature seamlessly, guiding students to make cross-curricular connections. Hersey runs the Adventure Club, taking students—some of whom rarely leave their neighborhoods—to art museums and hiking excursions in the nearby Berkshire Mountains. She has brought students to City Hall for recognition, models kindness and listens to her students without judgment. They know Hersey will never compromise when it comes to providing them the best opportunities for success, in class and in life.

Because the school is small, Hersey contributes in multiple areas. She is the school's teacher leader for curriculum and has led professional learning sessions for her colleagues on curriculum development. A passionate supporter of restorative justice, Hersey has influenced the school's disciplinary systems, speaking out if she perceives inequitable treatment. Using her restorative justice background, she has also started a Reflection Team for students to work through culture management at the school, and is seen as a committed educator who will fight for change.

Hersey earned a bachelor's degree in social thought and political economy in 2012 from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is pursuing a master's degree in education with a focus on social justice.

More information about Hersey, 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 2,800 top teachers, principals, and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2019-20 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis from March 26-28, 2020 where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education. In addition, the Milken Educator Awards' "Why Not Us" program will pair each 2019-20 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy.

More than $140 million in funding, including $70 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, 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 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 selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.

The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even on 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. Everyone is encouraged to watch the tour 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 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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