Press Releases    All Press Releases


Students' Undivided Attention Equals a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Math Teacher Melissa Fike

Datadiva crunches the numbers to multiply student interest and achievement at Oakland Middle School in Columbia, MO

January 10, 2020

SANTA MONICA, Calif., – Reading is fundamental, but math can be just plain fun in Melissa Fike's eighth-grade math classes at Oakland Middle School in Columbia, MO. Peppering her lessons with goofy math jokes and helpful mnemonic devices, Fike keeps students engaged, advancing their math mastery and offering individualized help as needed to learners who struggle to keep up. By raising expectations high, Fike draws the best efforts and results from her students. It's working. Under Fike's tutelage, students have made significant gains in Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments in recent years. And her expertise extends to the staff side of the equation as well: She leads monthly building-wide math teacher summits to compare notes, run the data on student performance and brainstorm new strategies.

But it was Fike who was registering an up-tick in her own qualitative and quantitative data stream 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 Missouri Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Dr. Margie Vandeven. Fike 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 Missouri 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."

Fike is making that future a reality for students of all aptitudes and backgrounds. A caring educator who pumps up math proficiency with her engaging personality and rock-solid pedagogy, Fike goes the extra mile for students when they need a boost — challenging all students to meet and exceed their personal goals. Fike is a role model for students, a mentor for young teachers and a stalwart colleague who sees the big picture as well as the baby steps it sometimes takes to achieve lasting progress. 

"Melissa Fike's students enjoy and employ mathematics both as a practical matter and as an academic exploration," said Gallagher. "By providing the creative tools to assist in her pupils' math mastery, Fike lets students glimpse the myriad of possibilities that lie ahead. For her relentless dedication and uplifting spirit, we're proud to welcome Fike as a Milken Educator." 

"We are thrilled that the Milken Family Foundation recognized Melissa with this award," said Vandeven. "Her work in the classroom inspires both students and colleagues to perform at the highest levels, and she is a great representative of all Missouri teachers who give their students the best chances to succeed." 

"Ms. Fike lives and teaches resiliency every day," said Superintendent Peter Stiepleman. "She firmly believes that every student can and will succeed. Her students feel valued and supported and that their progress matters, and we are so very fortunate to have such an amazing educator in Columbia Public Schools." 

About Milken Educator Melissa Fike

Melissa Fike's eighth-grade math students know that their teacher holds high expectations for them for a reason: She firmly believes they can and will succeed. As chair of the math department at Oakland Middle School in Columbia, Missouri, Fike teaches through investigative learning. Fike organizes her instruction around themes and finds fun, creative ways to encourage students to practice math, including clue games, math trails and cooperative learning activities. When students are confused or absent, Fike posts videos online to help them catch up and ensure no one is left behind. Formative assessments like entrance and exit slips help both Fike and students monitor their progress. Each unit ends with a project that encompasses the objectives for the entire year to date. Fike's students have shown gains in MAP assessments over the past few years, including significant progress toward closing the achievement gap for minority students, an explicit goal for the school. 

Fike's Professional Learning Community (PLC) meets weekly to review grade-level formative assessments, analyze student work and place students into targeted intervention groups. Fike often works with students one-on-one for additional instruction during "Eagle Hour." Fike's PLC has been so instrumental to Oakland's effective instructional practices that school and university liaisons have visited to observe the group at work. Each month Fike brings building math teachers together in a department meeting to examine formative assessment data and discuss strategies to plug holes. She is also a member of the Oakland Data Team. She serves on the school's department-chair committee and executive council, which deals with student welfare and building-support in addition to instructional decisions. A National Board Certified educator, Fike is an advocate for restorative practices and was instrumental in helping Oakland adopt a structured tier system of intervention. She is involved in the district's focus on Standards Referenced Grading, which she believes will increase student achievement in the classroom, school and district. Student teachers consider Fike an outstanding mentor and support as they move through their training. 

Zany, funny, tough but fair, Fike is one of the first teachers students visit when they return after graduation. The inside jokes and mnemonic devices she uses as memory aids stay with her pupils long after eighth grade. In the classroom Fike rarely stands still, sometimes clocking 18,000 steps per day in her 300-square-foot classroom. When she was pregnant, she zipped around the room on a wheeled chair so she could continue to work individually with students without exhausting herself. She writes a personalized holiday card for each student; many come back to visit from high school clutching those cards in their hands. 

Fike earned a bachelor's degree in secondary math education in 2006 from the University of Missouri Columbia and a master's degree in teaching and curriculum in 2013 from Northcentral University. 

More information about Fike, 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 
(818) 903-6079 cell;