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Data-Driven Student Success Lands Teacher Brittany Larson a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Grafton, ND, first-grade teacher helps kids own their education at Century Elementary

March 05, 2019

SANTA MONICA, Calif.,  — Caring and crunching the numbers go hand-in-hand for first-grade teacher Brittany Larson in her class at Century Elementary School in Grafton, ND. Larson is a master of differentiating data to discern each of her students' challenges and strengths, then deploy a plan to promote academic and emotional advancement. But crucial to that success is instilling a love of learning in her first-graders that fosters ownership of the educational journey they're embarking upon. It's working. Her students react enthusiastically to driving their learning plan, gauging their own levels of proficiency and achievement with an eye to making improvements that meet established standards and their own rising expectations.

Yet it was Larson whose expectations rose this morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Family Foundation Program Director Greg Gallagher and North Dakota School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler. A fired-up Larson was named a 2018-19 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from North Dakota this year, and is among the 33 honorees for 2018-19.

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."

In a way, each new class has as many different futures as it has students. And Larson's master's degree in differentiated instruction guides her use of data to support students at all levels, from those with academic and social-emotional challenges to high achievers. As part and parcel of her classroom prowess, Larson strives for continuous improvement in her instruction, mentors new teachers, models lessons for other instructors and serves on leadership committees for curriculum, assessments and special education.

"A great teacher like Brittany Larson understands the power of data and the power of personal passion," said Gallagher. "What she creates is not cookie cutter one-size-fits-all education, but a personally tailored learning experience that fits each student's needs. It's a remarkable achievement, and we're proud to welcome her as a Milken Educator."

"There are so many great things happening in education across North Dakota," said Baesler. "Brittany Larson's leadership in the classroom is one example. I am deeply honored to celebrate Brittany today and all of our state's educators who make a difference in the lives of students every day."

"Brittany's commitment, consideration, and dedication to the students in her class is a true reflection of the type of person she is," said Darren Albrecht, Superintendent of Grafton Public Schools. "Brittany is truly deserving of this recognition and we thank her for everything she does for students and families."

About Milken Educator Brittany Larson
One of the most important things Brittany Larson teaches her first-graders at Century Elementary School in Grafton, North Dakota: how to take ownership of their learning. Larson, who holds a master's degree in differentiated instruction, uses data to help her understand each student's strengths and areas of challenge. She is a leader at Century in standards-based teaching and assessment, as well as developing and using scales and rubrics. Larson's young pupils understand their own levels of proficiency and self-check their work on the rubric to determine which skills and content they have mastered and which still need more work. She uses whole-brain teaching to maximize student engagement and keep her classroom running smoothly. Larson's students support one another, celebrate individual and whole-class accomplishments, and love to learn. When the class earns a celebration, they often choose a Science Party, where they dress up in goggles and lab coats and spend an hour having fun with the high school science teacher.

Larson strives for continuous improvement in her teaching, pursuing excellence in her craft by adding new tools to her pedagogical toolbox. Though Century Elementary does not have a formal gifted-and-talented program, Larson uses her differentiation skills to develop opportunities for high achievers within her grade level. A mentor teacher, she eagerly opens her classroom for observation and models effective practices for Century staff. Larson also modeled lessons during a visit from Marzano Research, which uses some of her recorded lessons in its teacher training work across the U.S. She serves on building and district committees for academic standard assessments, goal-setting, curriculum development and special education. Larson pursues professional development opportunities and has presented to staff on oppositional-defiant behavior and MTSS (multi-tier system of supports). She constantly brings new research-based ideas to Century's weekly professional learning community meetings and pilots new programs so she can train others in the district.

Larson prioritizes getting to know her students and their families, attending sporting events and ice skating performances, volunteering in the community and starting a summer reading program. Larson holds a special place in her heart for students struggling with serious social, emotional and behavior problems; she connects with, loves and supports them, working side-by-side with parents, specialists and outside agencies to help her students grow. Children in her class know they are wanted, feel welcome and believe they can be successful. Perhaps the strongest testimonial to her lasting influence: Former students say they want to be first-grade teachers just like her.

Larson earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education in 2008 from University of Minnesota Duluth and a master's in differentiated instruction in 2017 from Concordia University.

More information about Larson, 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 2,700 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 from 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, 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 31 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.

Lynne Russo 
(818) 903-6079 cell;