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Teaching the Teachers Earns Professional Learning Coach Lacy Rivera a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

New Mexico educator serves all students by amping up staff skills at Los Lunas High School

October 22, 2019

SANTA MONICA, Calif.,  Lacy Rivera is a teacher's teacher. Literally. She lifts students at New Mexico's Los Lunas High School indirectly, by helping educators teach more effectively and efficiently, with a common goal to improve school performance and raise student test scores. As the school's professional learning coach, Rivera employs a creative, risk-taking approach as she mentors instructors and hones teachers' skills with data-focused initiatives and a relentlessly upbeat manner.

Rivera's innate positivity got a turbo boost this morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, Dr. Candice McQueen, together with New Mexico Secretary Designate of Education Ryan Stewart. An ebullient Rivera 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 New Mexico 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.”

Rivera is brightening that future for Los Lunas learners by coaching-up her school's teaching team in myriad ways. As a dedicated professional development advocate, Rivera leads teaching workshops, mentors new teachers, improves staff morale and promotes improved teacher-parent communication. She also assists pre-service teachers before they get to LLHS or other schools by serving as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico.

"Lacy Rivera sees the big picture, and she knows how to coach and mentor her fellow teachers to foster whole-school collaboration that benefits students," said McQueen. "Her results-oriented approach coupled with a heartfelt love of learning makes her a teacher's teacher. We are proud to welcome her as a Milken Educator."

"Lacy Rivera epitomizes the quality teachers we have in New Mexico," said Stewart. "Her creativity, drive for excellence, and fierce commitment to her students are changing lives and inspiring our leaders of tomorrow. I look forward to working closely with Ms. Rivera to include her voice and her passion for students in the development of our strategies and programs to provide every New Mexico student with a world-class education."

"Los Lunas Schools are incredibly blessed and honored to have such an amazing individual work with us on our quest to become the Premier School District in the State of New Mexico," said Dana Sanders, Superintendent of Los Lunas Schools. "Ms. Rivera exemplifies the very essence of the word premier. She is creative, inspiring and gifted when it comes to the art of teaching. There are few people who could, in any way, stand up to Lacy's level of commitment and undying passion for the teaching profession."

About Milken Educator Lacy Rivera

As the professional learning coach at New Mexico's Los Lunas High School (LLHS), Lacy Rivera impacts every classroom. She teaches the teachers through consultation, collaboration and coaching. Keeping a watchful eye on new educators, she tailors her support to their particular challenges. Rivera organizes learning walks, lunch-and-learn programs and instructional rounds to give all LLHS teachers the opportunity to observe and learn from each other. The district is working toward becoming a Professional Learning Community (PLC), and Rivera leads that effort at LLHS by helping departments develop essential standards, formative assessments, data evaluation methods and interventions for students who need additional support. The school is preparing for a 1:1 MacBook program, so Rivera has helped her colleagues incorporate Google Classroom, Clips and other applications into their lesson plans.

In her previous role chairing the English department, Rivera gladly explored, practiced, adopted and modeled new instructional methods. When New Mexico schools first introduced Khan Academy, Rivera piloted the program in her classroom and trained others. She is willing to take risks and try unusual practices if they help students learn. Positive and hopeful, Rivera motivates colleagues with unending optimism and a growth mindset, always grounding her suggestions in data and the latest research. Last year Rivera developed an intervention program for use by Algebra I teachers at LLHS; by year's end, student scores rose 20% on PARCC math assessments. Thanks to Rivera’s support, LLHS saw a boost in teacher retention last year—not a single teacher left the school.

Rivera has served on the Guiding Coalition, a group focused on improving instruction at LLHS, and helped create its mission, vision, values and goals. She leads monthly workshops on topics like classroom management and parent-teacher conference preparation for the district's New Teacher Support program. Rivera also works with other coaches in the district, serving as lead for the secondary PLC. New instructional coaches often shadow Rivera and count her as a mentor. As an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico, she helps pre-service teachers prepare for careers in education. Though Rivera no longer has a classroom at LLHS, students seek her out for college recommendations and job shadowing opportunities. Each year seniors who earn an academic letter can recognize an educator who has had an impact on their high school experience; Rivera’s name comes up again and again.

Rivera earned a bachelor's in English in 2006 and a master's in secondary education in 2008 from the University of Notre Dame. She is pursuing a doctorate at the University of New Mexico in language, literacy and sociocultural studies.

More information about Rivera, 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, 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 
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