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New Orleans Master Teacher Theresa Cross earns $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Cross of InspireNOLA encourages her students to become mathematically literate citizens

December 08, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Theresa Cross, a master teacher and math instructor at InspireNOLA's Alice M. Harte Charter School, gave up one summer vacation to remediate privately with one of her students so he could pass math and enter the ninth grade with the rest of his class. This type of individualized attention is a hallmark of Cross' approach to student learning. She helps students and their parents become personally invested and involved in their academic progress.

Today, it was the community's turn to shine a spotlight on Cross: In front of a gymnasium packed with her students, peers, visiting dignitaries and media, Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken, joined by Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, surprised the master teacher as a recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award. Cross is among 44 honorees for 2017-18 to receive the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000.

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."

Beyond her schoolwide responsibilities as a TAP master teacher as part of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching's (NIET) TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement, Cross teaches eighth-grade math and Algebra I. Those end-of-course exam scores consistently achieve a 100 percent passing rate, compared to the state's 34 percent average, thereby earning students high school credit.

"Theresa Cross' interdisciplinary teaching methods create transferable skills that Alice Harte students will be able to carry with them through the rest of their schooling and beyond," said Milken. "What's more, the skills, knowledge and experiences she has honed as a master teacher impact the entire faculty and school daily. Theresa truly personifies the dedication we look for in Milken Educators, and I am confident that the future will shine bright for the mathematicians, scientists and all those educated under her care."

Cross' students aim not just to pass their algebra exams, but also to get perfect scores. This is the goal-oriented and purpose-driven mentality that Cross aims to instill in her students. She helps them connect with the material through real-life scenarios: raising beetles for races to measure and map distances or growing classroom plants to calculate and chart heights. She also integrates reading in her math class to plot and graph suspense points from "The Most DangerousGame" novel. These rigorous yet engaging lessons build transferable skills, helping her students become mathematically literate citizens.

"Theresa has created a classroom environment that inspires her students not only to reach, but exceed, high expectations," said White. "Her commitment to innovative teaching methods, her compassion for every student, and her leadership in her department and across her school's campus are remarkable. She is deserving of this award, and we are proud to call her a Louisiana educator."

As a TAP master teacher, Cross's directional skills impact the whole school, but most especially the math department at this largely minority school. Through TAP's model of teacher leadership, professional learning, evaluation and performance-based compensation, Cross fosters a collaborative spirit among educators and students alike. She shares best instructional practices and curriculum resources with faculty, counsels and conferences with career (classroom) and mentor teachers analyzing all student data to determine best courses of action to aid struggling students. She also sits on multiple school committees and leadership teams, and conducts professional learning exercises that nurture educator effectiveness and a positive school culture.

"Ms. Cross is an exemplary master teacher who truly embodies InspireNOLA's goal to transform and inspire an educational movement," said InspireNOLA CEO Jamar McKneely, who participated in today's festivities. "Her undeniable dedication to the children of Alice Harte and the city of New Orleans is certainly worthy of this prestigious honor."

Cross earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and Music Management in 2004 as well as an MBA in 2006, both from Baldwin Wallace University (formerly Baldwin-Wallace College) in Berea, Ohio.

More information about Cross, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at Cross is the second and final Milken Award recipient of the 2017-18 season. Angela Boxie of Edgar Martin Middle School in the Lafayette Parish School System received the Award yesterday, becoming the first recipient in the district. Visit to learn more.

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, Cross' 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.