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High expectations, high reward, for Metro Nashville Milken Educator Shelly Gaughan

East End Prep kindergarten teacher stunned by $25,000 cash prize  

October 25, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — It's never too early to set students up for success. Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken conveyed this message in a big way when he announced East End Prep kindergarten teacher Shelly Gaughan as a winner of the prestigious Milken Educator Award. Adding to the excitement, the Award comes with a $25,000 cash prize that Gaughan can use however she chooses.

Gaughan—along with her colleagues and students—were anticipating Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen's visit to dedicate the school’s playground. But the day took a surprising turn as the all-school event also became a celebration of Gaughan's own dedication to the students and staff of East End Prep.

"The habits, behaviors and lessons that are instilled in us from day one have an indelible impact on us as students and as productive citizens," said Lowell Milken. "As kindergarten team leader and a fixture in the East End Prep community, Shelly Gaughan is shaping the future."

Gaughan is among up to 40 honorees nationwide to receive the prestigious recognition for the 2018-19 season.

"Elementary educators provide the critical foundation that our students will build on for their entire lives," said McQueen. "Shelly Gaughan ensures high expectations for both academic and personal growth for all the youngest learners in her classroom. I am proud to recognize her hard work and dedication to Tennessee's students in partnership with the Milken Family Foundation."

Research shows teacher quality is the number one in-school factor determining how well a student performs. The Milken Educator Awards, named by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," 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."

About Milken Educator Shelly Gaughan
Kindergarten teacher Shelly Gaughan works hard to instill a love of learning and school in her young students at East End Prep, an 8-year-old public charter school within Metro Nashville Public Schools. She teaches the whole child and holds high expectations for her pupils in both academic and social-emotional growth. Gaughan empowers students to become leaders in the classroom, including English language learners and those receiving special education services. Her classroom virtually runs itself; students display remarkable independence, go about their activities without much adult support, and provide feedback to their peers on both work and behavior. Gaughan helps East End's youngest students develop the skills and habits that will strengthen them and help them succeed both in school and in life. Her methods deliver stellar results: Her students show 90th percentile growth or more on math and reading assessments, year after year. Those who start the year as nonreaders finish on or above grade level, ready to succeed in first grade and beyond.

As the kindergarten team leader, Gaughan mentors novice teachers, developed many of the grade's procedures and systems, and has led the kindergarten classes to some of the strongest student data at East End. She has worked on math and writing curriculum, hosts district educators for observation, and frequently leads professional development for the building, especially for teachers working with beginning readers. When Gaughan noticed a gap in reading acquisition skills, she attended a summer workshop on the Orton-Gillingham approach and recreated a phonics program for kindergarten through second grade, which she piloted in her own classroom. Gaughan, known as a strong advocate for her colleagues, also serves on the Sunshine Committee, which plans activities to boost staff morale.

A fixture in the East End community—having worked at the school seven out of its eight years—Gaughan conducts kindergarten orientation, leads the school's art club, attends sporting events, and founded the Volunteer Corps Club to introduce service learning to the school's kindergarteners, first- and second-graders. She maintains strong connections with families and welcomes younger siblings into her classroom for activities, smoothing the transition when those students are ready for school themselves. Students in upper grades often return to Gaughan's classroom to showcase their work and cite her as a teacher who has made an impact on their education.

Gaughan earned a bachelor's in English in 2010 and a master’s in elementary education in 2011 from the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

More information about Gaughan, plus links to photos and 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. Along with the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Gaughan'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, 2018-19 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans, Louisiana, 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 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 over 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.

Jana Rausch
Communications Director
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell