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New Jersey Elementary Teacher Surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Elms Elementary's Shaina Brenner receives unrestricted cash prize during coast-to-coast tour celebrating nation’s outstanding educators

October 07, 2022

JACKSON, N.J.  — One Jackson, New Jersey, teacher received the surprise of a lifetime today -- a $25,000 Milken Educator Award presented by the Milken Family Foundation for her outstanding and innovative teaching, exceptional leadership and dedication to excellence through professional development. Elms Elementary second grade teacher Shaina Brenner was surprised with the Award at a schoolwide assembly of cheering students, appreciative colleagues, local dignitaries and media. 

The Awards will honor up to 40 elementary educators in the 2022-2023 school year. Over the past 35 years, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual Awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers.  

"Shaina Brenner personifies the qualities of a Milken Educator. She prioritizes her students' needs and develops creative strategies to engage and prepare them for success in our rapidly changing world," said Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and a 1994 Indiana Milken Educator. "Her dedication to improving the lives of her students, her passion for her community and her proven track record of leadership are just some of the many reasons she was honored today. I look forward to the contributions she will provide to our national Milken Educator Network." 

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The specific states and schools on this year’s winners' list remain a closely guarded secret until each Award is announced. 

"The Department congratulates Ms. Brenner on this outstanding career achievement," said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education. "Her zest for teaching and understanding of the learning needs of each child is a gift to her students and an inspiration to fellow educators."

More About Shaina Brenner 

Creativity Through Conservation: Brenner's passion for the environment and conservation provides a unique opportunity for her students at Elms Elementary School, where she spearheaded a new recycling initiative, acquired recycling bins for every classroom and created signage to show which materials can and cannot be recycled. Her creation of the student "Green Team" focused on improving the school's environmental policies, including gardening, recycling and conservation. The team promotes classroom audits, leads schoolwide energy contests and provides training, tools and resources to help students bring conversations about energy conservation home to their families. Students compost food scraps, contribute to a food sharing table and donate to a local food pantry, including produce grown in the school's 500-gallon aquaponic garden. Due in part to Brenner's dedication to environment projects, the U.S. Department of Education named the school a National Green Ribbon School on Earth Day 2022, the only New Jersey school to receive the honor and the first in the country. Brenner has helped add green topics to the curriculum, including water conservation, beach erosion and the importance of pollinators. 

Innovation Through Connection: Known as an innovator with a passion for preparing her students to thrive in a dynamic world, Brenner goes to great lengths to create an accurate picture of each child's strengths and areas for improvement. She provides students with a rubric and individualized checklist with expectations for each unit. Brenner looks for opportunities to connect learners to the world around them. She started a postcard exchange with 49 second grade classrooms across the country, representing every state. Each postcard students receive becomes a cross-content lesson as the class discusses interesting facts about the writer's state, including symbols, location, customs, food and slogan. Students color in the state on an oversized map that hangs outside her classroom along with the postcards, providing a learning opportunity for everyone who walks by. Brenner's second graders thrive: For the past three years, 70% of her class ended the year reading above grade level, with 90% showing mastery of state math standards. 

Professional Development and Leadership: Brenner is a leader in her building and district where she has participated in or led committees on school improvement, math, Read Across America and climate and school culture. She has led professional development for K-2 teachers in the district on high frequency word instruction based on orthographic mapping. Brenner promotes cultural understanding in her classroom, as well as at schoolwide events where families celebrate and learn about the school community's many cultures and traditions. The much-loved bulletin board displays she created to celebrate her school’s history and staff members are complete with newspaper clippings, historical artifacts, photos, quotes and trivia. 

Education: Brenner earned a bachelor's in communications from Rutgers University in 2007.

More About the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

Along with the financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 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 honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education. 
  • In addition, they will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFF) mentoring program, in which new Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • "We find you. You don't find us!" Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards initiative 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. The most exceptional candidates are recommended for the Award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation. 
  • The $25,000 cash Award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. For instance, some have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.   

To receive regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events or to watch the award events unfold, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook (@MilkenEducatorAwards), Twitter (@Milken), YouTube (/MilkenAward), Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn), and TikTok (@MilkenAward). 

For more information, visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772. 

About the Milken Educator Awards
The 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. The initiative was created by the Milken Family Foundation, which celebrates 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at