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'Whatever it takes' Principal Robyn Killebrew earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Can-do administrator drives student achievement at Mississippi's Pass Christian High School 

January 19, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Every student needs something different, and high-energy high school principal Dr. Robyn Killebrew in Pass Christian, MS, is intent on providing it all. From bolstering the confidence of fragile incoming freshman to visiting at-risk seniors on the brink of dropping out, Killebrew is with her students every step of the way. As a principal, she has lofty expectations for her students who are rising to the occasion with a 90% graduation rate and steadily rising test scores. As resourceful as she wants her students to be, Killebrew has been known to pinch-hit as a bus driver, personally meets with all incoming Freshman and drove good-Samaritan students to nearby Baton Rouge to help flood victims.

But it was Killebrew who got some unexpected help this morning at an all-school assembly—in the form of a Milken Educator Award. Presented by State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright and Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley, the 2017-18 national recognition comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Killebrew is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Mississippi this year, and is among the 44 honorees for 2017-18.

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 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."

Both data driven and down to earth, Killebrew encourages student engagement in school activities like sports, band or school clubs while also spurring academic advancement with innovations like her ACT Boot Camp to boost student scores on standardized achievement tests. Killebrew is a motivational administrator who pushes her staff to grow professionally and continually improve their teaching methods; it's clearly having an impact as the award-winning Pass Christian District is a perennial state leader.

"Dr. Robyn Killebrew is an administrator who understands that educators must teach and reach the whole child in order to get the best results for her students, staff and community," said Foley. "By taking a personal interest in students' lives and needs, she sets them up to succeed academically, vocationally and personally and thereby create a pathway to the brighter futures they all deserve. She is also known for her extraordinary support and connection to students, staff, community, and other administrators."

"Dr. Robyn Killebrew is a demonstrated leader in the school and the community," said Wright. "Her spirit and enthusiasm are evident by her unwavering support of students and teachers in words and actions. I congratulate her on this national award, and I thank her for representing Mississippi's outstanding educators so admirably."

"Dr. Killebrew is a remarkable example of excellence," said Dr. Carla J. Evers, Pass Christian Superintendent of Schools. "She demonstrates a strong commitment to our beliefs by holding students and staff accountable to rigorous expectations for teaching and learning. I cannot think of a more deserving educator for this prestigious award. We are proud that Mississippi's newest Milken Educator is a Pass Pirate and the leader of our flagship!"

About Milken Educator Robyn Killebrew
When Dr. Robyn Killebrew took over as principal of Mississippi's Pass Christian High School (PCHS) in 2014, she noticed that incoming freshmen tended to stumble as they moved to high school. Her solution: Pass Christian's Freshman Academy, a program specifically designed to help smooth the transition from middle school to ninth grade. Killebrew meets with the incoming freshmen herself, encouraging them to become part of the Pass Christian family by joining an athletic team, club or academic organization during their high school years. Since the program launched, Pass Christian's graduation rate has risen to over 90%. Killebrew also created an ACT "boot camp" to prepare students for the standardized college test, knowing that many Pass Christian families depend on college scholarships and reminds students that ACT points equal "college dollars." As a result, scores on every area of the test, and the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in all four testing areas, has risen from 17% to 27%.

A former basketball, softball and volleyball coach, Killebrew takes a team approach to managing both students and staff. She believes that students will rise to the loftiest of expectations when a caring and encouraging adult is in their court and believes in them—even if the students don't yet have the confidence to believe in themselves. Killebrew is known as an excellent instructional leader who motivates teachers to adopt a growth mindset and make sure students achieve their academic goals. She loves data: During a staff development day, Killebrew showed Pass Christian teachers how to read and interpret the state's accountability model, then encouraged them to turn around and share that with students to help them understand their progress and how factors like attendance affect their learning. Pass Christian has won many awards, including the state education department's Value Added Award; the school consistently earns an A in Mississippi's accountability system, placing it in the top 10% statewide.

Killebrew is described as a "whatever it takes" leader. When a school bus couldn't finish its run, Killebrew jumped behind the wheel; when students wanted to help nearby Baton Rouge after massive floods, she drove them there herself. Killebrew attends sporting events, band and cheer competitions, art exhibitions, car washes, golf tournaments and recitals as both administrator and No. 1 fan. Each month she invites community members in for "Pastries with the Principal" to share what's happening at PCHS and how students are doing. Killebrew has been known to show up at the home of at-risk students to convince them to stick it out until graduation and serves on the district superintendent's Key Leadership team. Killebrew's mother has taught for four decades; "Coach K," as students call the principal, says she plans to smash that record.

Killebrew earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from William Carey University in 2003. She also holds a master's in sports administration (2005) and a Ph.D in educational leadership and administration (2016) from the University of Southern Mississippi.

More information about Killebrew, 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, Killebrew'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, 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.

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