Press Releases    All Press Releases


2019-20 National Milken Educator Awards Tour Kicks Off in New Haven

Clinton Avenue social studies teacher Lauren Sepulveda is surprised with $25,000 "Oscar of Teaching" for shaping students into global citizens

October 01, 2019

Santa Monica, Calif., —  As Clinton Avenue School staff and students filed into this morning's assembly hosted by the Connecticut State Department of Education, no one knew that leaders of the Milken Educator Awards traveled 3,000 miles to add a surprising twist: One exceptional teacher was about to receive the first 2019-20 Milken Educator Award and its 25,000 cash prize.

Before cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials and the media, Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Connecticut Chief Turnaround Officer Desi Nesmith presented social studies teacher Lauren Sepulveda with the prestigious honor. Sepulveda is the sole Milken Award recipient in Connecticut and among up to 40 honorees nationwide to receive the recognition during the 2019-20 season. 

Hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," the goal of the Milken Educator Awards is to celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it. The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award.

Evidence of that impact was shown by the participation of Foley and Nesmith, both Milken Educators themselves.

"Lauren Sepulveda brings history to life by demonstrating how past events have shaped our nation, world and people today," said Foley. "Students develop a greater understanding of their responsibilities as global citizens and lifelong learners. I commend Lauren on the indelible impact she makes in the lives of her students, and look forward to her contributions to our Milken Educator Network."

"Congratulations to Lauren Sepulveda on this remarkable achievement. Lauren fits the mold of a teacher leader who possesses the ability to inspire everyone around her to strive for excellence and reach their full potential," added Nesmith. "I am proud to welcome Lauren as a Milken Educator and look forward to working together to promote the teaching profession across Connecticut."

Sepulveda's students meet guest speakers who share their personal experiences during World War II, the Korean War and the Rwandan genocide, to name a few. In one unit, Sepulveda had students propose and draft a bill, then present it to the class for passage. Another assignment asked students to examine their textbook's presentation of the Revolutionary War, not to memorize what was there but to figure out what and who might be missing. The pupils drafted a new chapter that included the stories of significant minorities; with Sepulveda's help, they submitted their revised text to the publisher for consideration in the next edition. Students maintain personalized learning portfolios to track their data and monitor their progress.

"The successes we continue to see in districts around the state are in large part due to the dedication and passion that educators like Lauren Sepulveda bring to the classroom. As educators, we know that the way to get students engaged is by presenting them with content that helps them apply context and meaning to what they are learning. Lauren's approach to social studies challenges students to go above and beyond textbook lessons with exciting activities that resonate and enrich their learning experience, leading them to form real-world connections with the subject matter at hand," said Connecticut Education Commissioner Dr. Miguel A. Cardona. "Congratulations to Lauren, Clinton Avenue School and the New Haven district for this well-deserved honor."

More About Lauren Sepulveda

Results: During the 2018-19 school year, Sepulveda's students improved significantly on the district writing assessments — the metric she uses as a social studies teacher. Her seventh grade students went from 98% scoring basic in the beginning of the year to 91% scoring proficient or higher by the end of the year. Similarly, Sepulveda increased the proficiency of her eighth graders from 98% of them scoring basic at the beginning of the year to 91% of them scoring proficient or higher by year end.

Leadership: The team leader for seventh and eighth grades, Sepulveda has served on the leadership team and helped create the school's continuous improvement plan. She co-chaired one of the school's NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation committees and mentors new teachers. Sepulveda sits on the district's equity and strategic planning committees, presents professional development and has led the district's social studies curriculum efforts. She works with the Connecticut State Department of Education to recruit potential new teachers. Sepulveda holds high expectations for her students and encourages them to take on leadership roles. She advises Clinton Avenue's student council and serves on the school culture and climate committee.

Community: After Sepulveda took 20 students to a 3-day leadership program in Vermont, the group decided to pursue a relationship with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, encouraging the rest of the class to join in. Sepulveda organizes community service opportunities throughout the year, including hurricane relief efforts, food drives, and projects with the Wounded Warriors and Red Cross. A passionate, approachable educator, Sepulveda builds trusting relationships with students and their families.

Education: Sepulveda earned a bachelor's from Southern Connecticut State University in 2010 and a master's from Concordia University-Portland in 2016. She is currently pursuing a degree in educational leadership at Quinnipiac University.

More information about Sepulveda, plus links to photos and video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at  

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 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.

The 2019-20 honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis 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 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy.

  • Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. 
  • The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators; this season honors secondary school teachers. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. 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.