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New Mexico Science Teacher Walks Out of a School Assembly a Milken Educator and $25,000 Richer

February 24, 2016

SANTA MONICA, CA — Science teacher Colin DeGroot had no idea that the real purpose of the schoolwide assembly at The ASK (Attitude, Skills, Knowledge) Academy this morning was to award him with the Milken Educator Award and a $25,000 check. He thought it was because Governor Susana Martinez and Education Secretary Hanna Skandera were coming to the school for a visit.

The high school science teacher received the surprise of his lifetime when in true Awards show-style, his name was called out by Governor Martinez before students, colleagues, media and distinguished officials Wednesday morning.

When DeGroot was given the prized navy blue envelope, he joined up to 40 other educators who have received the prestigious national honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s (MFF) coast-to-coast tour across the country during this 2015-16 Awards season. MFF has been rewarding outstanding elementary and secondary educators with the Award since 1987.

"Great teachers like Colin DeGroot challenge our students and inspire them to follow their dreams," Governor Martinez said. "Not only does he set a great example for our kids, but also every teacher in our state. I'm proud to have amazing teachers like Colin DeGroot in New Mexico's classrooms."

“Effective teachers make the difference for our kids, and it’s clear Colin is a big difference-maker for his students and The ASK Academy,” said Skandera. "He makes New Mexico proud, and he exemplifies the excellence in teaching recognized by the Milken Educator Award.”

At ASK Academy, a small, independent nonprofit charter school in Rio Rancho that focuses on STEM innovation, DeGroot makes science come alive by developing relevant, fun and powerful learning experiences for the students.

In fact, students “fight” to get into his class. His signature phrase is “Be an expert.” Students own their learning.

DeGroot’s overall goal is to show students why science matters and how it impacts their lives and he is known for his Pyramid Teaching method. He asks students to become “experts” in specific areas of study and then share findings with the entire school. The method provides structure, direction and expectations around a concept. This technique allows for differentiation in learning styles and culminates in one final project with real-world significance that each student plays a major part in accomplishing.

For instance, students have built roller coasters, a rocket, a wind farm and carbon-dioxide-powered cars. In one class, students created a greenhouse that provided food for 40 people.

DeGroot’s hands-on, research-based teaching style is a perfect fit for the unique school. He is a strong contributor to the learning culture at ASK, where he’s considered a leader on campus. He heads the development of science curriculum and the school’s project-based learning program. Staff often go to him for lesson suggestions and advice on teaching strategies.

On a broader level, DeGroot aids science and research educators across New Mexico as a Sandia National Laboratories fellow. He develops and leads a summer workshop series called POWER: Water and Energy Resources. Educators leave his workshop with relevant and innovative lessons to take back to their own students, multiplying the impact of DeGroot’s teaching to an ever-widening circle.

“Colin is the kind of teacher that parents wish for their child,” said Foley. “He creates an authentic, engaging and inspiring learning environment for his students and shows them, through hands-on strategies, how science is meaningful, relevant and exciting. He’s a standout educator and we look forward to seeing how he, as a Milken Educator, will continue his work in education at his school, but also his potential to impact the broader education community.”

He received a Bachelor of Science in secondary science education from the University of New Mexico in 2005 and a Master of Science Teaching from New Mexico Tech in 2011.

The Milken Educator Awards program has been described as “the Oscars of teaching” by Teacher magazine. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the Milken Awards are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to MFF.

In addition to participation in the 2,600-strong national Milken Educator Network, 2015-16 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans next month. Milken Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal leaders about the importance of amplifying teacher voices to advance educator effectiveness.

This year, MFF launched a #MyTeacherRocks Instagram campaign that encourages students to take selfies with their favorite teacher and describe in the caption why their teacher is special. To enter the contest, entrants are asked to follow @MilkenFamilyFdn on Instagram, post their selfie to their individual account and use the #MyTeacherRocks and #MilkenAward hashtags. The second of the three winners was selected in February 2016. The third winner will be selected in April 2016.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at;;; and

The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, were launched 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.