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Helping Students Conquer Calculus Earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Math Teacher Candice Harrington

California educator lifts students to 95 percent AP Calculus success rate at Capistrano Valley High in Mission Viejo

February 12, 2020

SANTA MONICA, Calif., – If you had to plot the graph of students in Candice Harrington's math classes at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, CA, it would a line sloping sharply up. Students in her Advanced Placement AP Calculus AB class achieve a 95 percent success rate, and students in all her math courses show significant growth. By expecting a lot from her students and challenging them to engage and excel, Harrington propels exponential progress in math education at all levels. A booster and mentor to fellow teachers who also encourages student participation in extracurricular activities, Harrington leads a summer program for girls to amp up their foundational math skills, increase their overall confidence and lift their academic success rate. 

Yet it was Harrington celebrating a sharp uptick on her success graph this morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and California Department of Education Chief Deputy Superintendent Lupita Cortez Alcalá. Harrington was named a 2019-20 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the second Milken Educator Award winner from California this year, and is among 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." 

Harrington is making that future more inclusive as she brings the message of math to more and more enthusiastic students. Her methods are anything but by the numbers. Harrington deploys hands-on math lessons that make abstract concepts more concrete for students and also coaches her fellow math instructors to think creatively about how they teach in order to reach learners in new and innovative ways. 

"By generating interest and enthusiasm for STEM education, including young women, a great teacher like Candice Harrington creates a myriad of pathways to success for all students," said Foley. "Her exemplary engagement, commitment to excellence, and tireless dedication to all her students is the kind of inspirational leadership we seek in our Milken Educators." 

"Candice Harrington is an inspiration for her students, school, and entire community," said Alcalá. "Educators like Candice—who encourage their students to be the best, mentor other teachers, and go above and beyond the school day to help students—are great examples for California and the nation." 

About Milken Educator Candice Harrington

Mathematics teacher Candice Harrington believes in her students at Capistrano Valley High School, and they believe in themselves as a result. Several years ago, Harrington started a "Drive to Five" campaign in her AP Calculus AB class to push students to pass and strive for perfect scores on the AP test. Harrington takes her instructional practice seriously and constantly seeks out innovative teaching strategies. In her calculus classes, students worked in teams to solve difficult problems. Harrington introduced, games, group quizzes and other engaging activities to make sure students were paying attention and learning actively. Over the past three years, 95% of Harrington's students have passed the AP Calculus AB exam with an average score of 4.1 (out of 5). 

In addition to calculus, Harrington insists on teaching other courses that build foundational skills. Hands-on learning opportunities abound in all her classes. In algebra, students learn about factoring not from lectures, textbooks or memorization, but through manipulatives that illustrate the concepts. They make scale drawings of favorite comic strips in geometry and build models to practice finding the volume of three-dimensional shapes in calculus. Harrington also teaches teachers: She mentors student teachers, serves as an instructional coach for the district and lectures on mathematics methods at California State University Fullerton (CSUF). Harrington has presented at the California and Orange County Mathematics Councils on discovery-based learning and strategies to improve success rates in AP Calculus. As a math instructor for CSUF's Project MISS (Mathematics Intensive Summer Sessions), Harrington sends girls back to local high schools with renewed confidence in their math skills and excitement to continue their studies. 

An integral part of the school community, Harrington coordinates Link Crew, a mentorship program for incoming first-year students, and advises the school newspaper, yearbook and California Scholarship Federation. She oversees student speakers for graduation, working with them to hone their speeches. Harrington shows up for sporting events and activities, often with handmade signs she and her three young sons wave as they cheer for her students. 

Harrington earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of California San Diego in 2005 and a master's degree in education from Concordia University, Irvine in 2018. 

More information about Harrington, 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. 

More About the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. The Awards, created by Lowell Milken, 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. 

Along with the $25,000 financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

Lynne Russo 
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