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Data-Driven Principal Wendy Shirey Propels Students and Staff, Earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Hands-On Nevada administrator engineers growth spike at Henderson's Pinecrest Academy Horizon

December 19, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., —  A data devotee who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty, principal Wendy Shirey uses the numbers and a hands-on leadership style to lift student and staff performance at the Pinecrest Academy Horizon elementary school in Henderson, Nevada. Case in point, when Shirey noticed a downturn in 5th graders' numbers, she rallied teachers, delved into the data, and reorganized classes and curriculum to engineer a six-month turnaround. The result: The student performance arrow started heading in the right direction, pronto. An ardent STEM proponent, a committed advocate of tech in the classroom and a skilled grant roper, Shirey is always crunching numbers in service to her school, staff and students.

Yet it was Shirey who saw the numbers work in her favor at a surprise school assembly today when she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken and Pinecrest Foundation School President Dr. Carrie Buck. An appreciative Shirey was named a 2018-19 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Nevada this year, and is among the up to 40 honorees for 2018-19.

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."

To facilitate that brighter future, Shirey relishes getting right down in the educational trenches with her staff. Both math and English Language Arts growth have jumped substantially under her leadership, and Pinecrest Academy Horizon was voted Best Elementary School and Best Charter School in the Las Vegas Review Journal's annual poll. Looking beyond her own campus, Shirey has written grants for more than $3 million to fund technology and programs for the Pinecrest system.

"Forward-looking educators like Wendy Shirey expand the universe of understanding for students and teachers alike," said Milken. "With a data-driven approach, a tech-friendly mindset and a grasp of her students' emotional needs, she broadens the horizons of everyone she encounters on campus and in the educational world beyond. We look forward to Wendy's future achievements and proudly welcome her to the Milken Educator Network."

About Milken Educator Wendy Shirey
Wendy Shirey, the Principal of Pinecrest Academy Horizon, knows that data holds the key to improving student outcomes and fosters the K-5 public charter school’s data-driven culture. She holds weekly professional learning communities with each grade level, looking for proactive rather than reactive opportunities to adjust staffing and instructional methods. Last year, when fifth-grade student outcomes lagged, Shirey worked with teachers to dissect their data and target areas of need, shifting class schedules, teacher assignments, curriculum content and pacing; within six months, the school’s fifth grade showed the highest growth and improvement of all four Pinecrest campuses. Under Shirey's watchful leadership, elementary growth in ELA was up 12% in 2017-18, with math up 4.5%; middle school growth (the school served K-8 until this year) gained even more, with ELA up 23% and math up 16%. Pinecrest Horizon quickly jumped from three to five stars under the Nevada School Performance Framework after Shirey's arrival as assistant principal in 2015.

Shirey is committed to ensuring that students are prepared for college and career by obtaining the 21st-century skills necessary to contribute to Nevada's growing STEM industries. She has written grants for more than $3 million in funding for the Pinecrest system, which has supported the implementation of 1:1 technology and differentiated learning through a blended learning model. Shirey also procured funds for campus social workers and developed a student support system that incorporates their services.

A collaborative, inspirational leader with a background in special education, Shirey often interacts with primary, secondary and university-based educators around the state. She has participated in the Public Education Foundation's Executive Leadership Academy, earned a leadership certificate from Georgetown University, and attended the Doral Academy Leadership Institute. Shirey has been a member of the Southern Nevada Writing Project since 2006 and has presented at the National Charter School Conference and the Charter School Association of Nevada Conference. A masterful relationship-builder, Shirey earned a 100% satisfaction rating on Pinecrest Horizon's semiannual survey of staff and families. The school was voted Best Elementary School and Best Charter School in the Las Vegas Review Journal's annual Best of Las Vegas poll.

Shirey earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Wyoming in 2000, a master's in reading curriculum and instruction from Grand Canyon University in 2009, and an educational specialist degree in educational leadership from NOVA Southeastern University in 2014.

More information about Shirey, 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, 2018-19 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans from March 21-24, 2019. 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, 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 31 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.

Lynne Russo 
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