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Springdale STEM Star Michael Tapee First in Nation to Receive 2023-24 Milken Educator Award

Lowell Milken, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Department of Education Secretary Jacob Oliva honor Tapee for stratospheric student achievement and school leadership

October 03, 2023

Santa Monica, Calif. Philanthropist and education visionary Lowell Milken launched the 2023-24 Milken Educator Awards today in Springdale, Arkansas, with the presentation of a $25,000 Award to Hellstern Middle School mathematics teacher Michael Tapee (pronounced TAY-pee). Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Department of Education Secretary Jacob Oliva joined Milken to surprise Tapee with the Award before cheering students, proud colleagues, dignitaries and media. Tapee can use the cash prize however he chooses. 

"I created the Milken Educator Awards more than three decades ago to say in a public way that greatness in education should be celebrated, recognized and rewarded. Michael Tapee has not only exceeded academic expectations with his students, but has also instilled in them a deep sense of enthusiasm, curiosity and discovery that they will carry through their journey of learning and life," said Lowell Milken, founder of the Milken Educator Awards and chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation. "These skills are crucial to developing the talented STEM leaders our nation needs to compete in a global economy." 

Tapee ties instruction to real-world situations for his sixth and seventh grade students, whether it is building rockets, designing apartment floor plans, or speaking with NASA scientists. Beyond the classroom, Tapee helps lead Hellstern's award-winning Herobotics (robotics) program, an initiative he co-created, as well as serves on the school's guiding coalition, advances professional development, and mentors new teachers. Tapee will have the opportunity to broaden his impact as a member of the national Milken Educator Network, a growing group of nearly 2,900 professionals working to shape the future of education. 

"Congratulations to Michael Tapee on being named a Milken Educator," Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Jacob Oliva said. "From his hands-on, interactive lessons to his commitment to the school community, Mr. Tapee is focused on student learning. Because of his passion for education, his students develop a love for STEM, and his leadership and creativity benefit everyone around him. He is deserving of this honor, and we are pleased to be a part of today's celebration." 

The Milken Educator Awards are hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching." Tapee is among up to 75 recipients across the country this school year who will be awarded as part of the Milken Family Foundation's Journey to the 3,000th Milken Educator. This season will reach $75 million in individual financial prizes spanning the length of the initiative and more than $144 million invested in the Milken Educator Award national network overall, empowering recipients to "Celebrate, Elevate, and Activate" the K-12 profession and inspiring young, capable people to pursue teaching as a career.

Outstanding educators like Tapee are not aware of their candidacy for the Award. Recipients are sought out while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities afforded by the Award. 

More about Michael Tapee 

Advances in STEM: Mathematics master Mr. Michael Tapee thrives when it comes to sparking young learners' interest in STEM. His passion for creating exciting, authentic project-based learning experiences plays a pivotal role in the success of his sixth and seventh grade students. Tapee is exceptionally skilled at connecting mathematical concepts with real-world situations. Lessons on proportional relationships are shared through video calls with a guest speaker from NASA. Geometric concepts, such as trajectory, are explored through a rocket-building project. Each year, he guides students through designing apartment floor plans and determining the appropriate rent after various composite area calculations, then 3D-printing their designs to take home. Tapee's hands-on teaching approach consistently yields impactful results; his students show consistently high average yearly growth on the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) assessment as well as consistently high test scores, often reaching a proficiency level of at least 85%.  

School and Community Leadership: Tapee is known for his co-creation and development of Hellstern's Herobotics program, a competitive robotics team designed to help students pursue STEM outside of the classroom. His growing team regularly qualifies for state competitions and has won several championships. He has fostered a supportive learning environment by taking on various leadership roles: team-leading Hellstern's guiding coalition, organizing back-to-school adult learning exercises, leading professional development seminars, speaking at education conferences, contributing to student success podcasts and building Hellstern's Year in Review for families and community members.

Supporting a Positive Growth Mindset for the Next Generation of Leaders: Tapee instills an appreciation for learning through trial and error among his students and colleagues while leading with a positive growth mindset. His dedication to student success extends far beyond his own students; he frequently speaks in classes at his alma mater, the University of Arkansas, and often works with the next generation of aspiring teachers.

Education: Tapee earned a bachelor's in history and a mathematics minor in 2015 from the University of Arkansas, as well as a master's in teaching in 2016. In 2023, he completed an education specialist program with a concentration in educational leadership and principalship from Arkansas State University. 

More about the Milken Educator Award Journey: "The Future Belongs to the Educated"

  • The honorees attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles in June 2024, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to broaden their impact on K-12 education.
  • Honorees receive powerful mentorship opportunities for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. Milken Friends Forever (MFF) pairs a new recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor; the Expanding MFF Resource and Explorer Program fosters individual veteran Milken Educator partnerships around a specific topic area; and Activating Milken Educators (AME) promotes group collaboration in and across states to tackle pressing educational needs.
  • Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • The $25,000 cash Award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. Some recipients have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.  

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Visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772 for more information.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. Created by Lowell Milken, 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. The Milken Family Foundation celebrates more than 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at