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For literally singing the praises of math, teacher Toni-Ann Palmisano earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Creative number cruncher multiplies student interest at Secaucus Middle School  

December 19, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif.,— By inspiring students to make math music videos, giving up her lunch hour to tutor students and singing songs about Pi, seventh-grade teacher Toni-Ann Palmisano is performing miracles with her classes at New Jersey's Secaucus Middle School. It all adds up to success, as her students' test numbers have risen every year since her arrival.

But Palmisano was singing a song of surprise this morning when she was presented with a prestigious Milken Educator Award by New Jersey Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington and Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley. An elated Palmisano was named a 2017-18 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Palmisano is the second Milken Educator Award winner from New Jersey 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."

Engaging students through any available means, Palmisano's expertise extends beyond math jams and deploying multimedia assets in the classroom, to include extracurricular activities like student government and the school yearbook. A mentor for novice teachers and a seasoned veteran who helped rewrite the district's math curriculum, she is not only helping create well-rounded students but also a more well-rounded school.

"Toni-Ann Palmisano leads by doing, giving students practical hands-on experience with real world mathematics," said Foley. "Her focus on the whole student and, by extension, the complete educational experience is what brings her subject to life and lights a fire in her young math students that can last a lifetime. It is the kind of inspirational leadership we love to see in our Milken Educators."

"I am honored to celebrate one of New Jersey's amazing teachers, Toni-Ann Palmisano, as a Milken award winner," said Harrington. "Toni-Ann's service to her students truly embodies a focus on the whole-child as she brings context to the content and ensures each and every student develops the knowledge and skills to follow his/her dream."

"Ms. Toni-Ann Palmisano has a positive impact on the lives of her students at Secaucus Middle School every day," said Secaucus District Superintendent Jennifer Montesano. "She is passionate, caring, and is constantly encouraging students and colleagues with her professional and inspiring personality. Ms. Palmisano sets the bar high for her students and goes above and beyond to help them reach their goals both in and out of the classroom. Ms. Palmisano's day often does not end when the bell rings. She can be seen after hours coordinating fundraisers and events for the students, publishing the annual yearbook, and facilitating activities for the Student Government Organization. Ms. Palmisano is also a mentor to new teachers and has been credited for amending the current curriculum for the mathematics department. Ms. Palmisano is also an educational leader, having presented at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Regional Conference. It's an honor to be part of sharing such an award with a true educational leader."

About Milken Educator Toni-Ann Palmisano

When the lunch bell rings, excited Secaucus Middle School students rush down the hall to the classroom of math teacher Toni-Ann Palmisano. The advisor to the yearbook committee and student government, Palmisano gladly spends her lunch hours with students of all grade levels and abilities, offering extra math help, planning the next school dance and working on the yearbook. She strives to create a school culture in which acceptance is appreciated and encouraged and believes strongly that extracurricular outlets help children succeed when stress or challenges arise.

In class, Palmisano teaches seventh-graders the fundamental building blocks of algebra and geometry, using many hands-on and collaborative activities. Students slice food to understand cross-sections and use virtual counters to learn about integers. Music and media figure prominently in her curriculum: lessons often include videos from PBS Learning, Scholastic Study Jams or Math Antics, and Palmisano is known to belt out songs about pi and circumference. In the past few years, students have created their own math music videos from scratch, an activity that reinforces mathematical concepts while letting individual personalities shine. Palmisano aims to anticipate and address the question math teachers dread most from students: "When will we ever use this again?" She is credited with helping boost the district's math assessment scores, which have risen every year since she arrived in the district. Last year Palmisano received a perfect 4.0 Student Growth Percentile Score; all of her students scored 3 or higher on the Grade 7 Mathematics Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment, with the majority scoring 4 or 5 (Meeting or Exceeding Expectations).

Palmisano played a vital role in rewriting the Secaucus Middle School math curriculum when it was aligned to the Common Core standards in 2010. She is the teacher designee for the parent-teacher association and sits on the Intervention & Referral Services and Communication & Collaboration committees. Palmisano mentors novice teachers, has led informational sessions for parents about the math PARCC assessments, has presented at National Council of Teachers of Mathematics regional conferences, and advises the high school Unico-Youth Club, which performs community service in the Secaucus area.

Palmisano earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and math education in 2009 from New Jersey City University and a master's in educational leadership in 2013 from Kean University.

More information about Palmisano, 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, Palmisano'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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