Press Releases   << All Press Releases


Project-Based Learning Pro Amanda Robertson Earns Milken Educator Award for North Carolina and $25,000 Cash Prize

Jones Intermediate School teacher creates student-centered classroom where content comes to life

December 08, 2016

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Imagine a classroom where students take charge of their own learning through projects that make them think critically, problem-solve and develop social-emotional skills that they need to succeed. This is the reality for students of fourth-grade math teacher Amanda Robertson at Jones Intermediate School in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Today, Robertson was thanked for helping to realize student potential as she became the district's first-ever recipient of the Milken Educator Award and the sole Milken honoree in North Carolina this year. The Award comes with a $25,000 cash prize that Robertson can use however she chooses.

Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. June Atkinson and Mount Airy City Schools Superintendent Dr. Kim Morrison surprised Robertson with the recognition during an all-school assembly before students, colleagues, dignitaries and the media. Robertson is among up to 35 honorees who will receive the prestigious honor nationwide for 2016-17.

This season marks the 30th year of the Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching."

"Students are the stars in Amanda Robertson's classroom, where they collaborate on project-based learning, think critically, harness strengths and refine areas of improvement," said Foley. "The culture of high expectations that Amanda has created will prepare her students for success in school and life. I congratulate her on the impact she has made on her students, school and broader community."

"Amanda's rapport with her students makes them want to strive to exceed expectations," Atkinson said. "Their success can in large part be attributed to her work with Problem-Based Learning, which has garnered her much-deserved accolades from fellow teachers. Jones Intermediate is fortunate to have her on staff; and North Carolina is fortunate to have her in its teaching ranks."

"We are extremely proud of Amanda Robertson and all she has accomplished in her career. The level of excellence our teachers bring every day is evident in Amanda's classroom as she works hard to provide a learning environment for each child," said Morrison. "Teachers are often underpaid and feel under-appreciated. We are excited to celebrate this award with Amanda and hope she understands how much we appreciate her and all of the teachers in Mount Airy City Schools. Our teachers make a difference every day in the lives of our children and our community is a better place because of teachers like Amanda Robertson."

During her three years at Jones Intermediate School, Robertson has been an agent of change for her school and district. When Mount Airy City Schools received a $1.6 million MAPSS (Math and Project-Based Learning for Student Success) grant, Robertson was one of three teachers in the first cohort to transform her teaching from teaching-centered to student-centered and implement project-based learning (PBL).

Assessments have captured impressive results: Grade-level proficiency improved from 50% to 63.56%, and Robertson's students exceeded the average by more than 10 percentage points. Jones Intermediate, a high-need school where 64% of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, scores in the top 4% of all elementary schools in North Carolina.

Robertson's classroom is a model of best practices. Project-based learning allows her to challenge students intellectually, identify and maximize student strengths, and differentiate lessons for students at all learning levels. She gives students consistent, appropriate feedback that both celebrates their accomplishments and provides support for areas of improvement. Robertson involves parents in their children's learning, teaching them how to ask probing questions as students work on projects at home. Students lead family conferences in the classroom to show parents their work.

Robertson's innovative instruction and excellent results have earned her the respect of her colleagues; many of the classroom observations Jones Intermediate requires of teachers happen in Robertson's room, with colleagues standing in line to watch her in action. A certified PBL trainer, Robertson worked with Wake Forest University and the University of Texas at Dallas to lead professional development for the second cohort of MAPSS teachers in her area.

Robertson pioneered Jones Intermediate's first-ever grading policy, outlining the school's belief that grades should reflect only content acquisition and not be comparative or punitive. She also crafted the school's first homework policy, making the "flipped classroom" (where students review short video lessons at night and spend classroom time on projects, discussion and exercises) the expectation rather than the exception.

Robertson chairs her grade level, leads a Professional Learning Community and serves on the school's new Media and Technology Advisory Committee (MTAC). The role of the committee is to determine Jones' digital learning needs and craft a plan of action to accommodate them. She also introduced PBL to at-risk students in Jones Intermediate's after-school Future Leaders Academy. Holding high expectations for both students and herself, Robertson motivates students to do their best, builds trust, and creates a learning environment where students are striving to improve.

Robertson earned a Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary studies from Texas A&M University in 2007.

More information about Robertson, 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, Robertson's honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top principals, teachers and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2016-17 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum this spring in New Orleans. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about the importance of 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 program, 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 Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then 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 Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, is in its 30th year. 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.