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English Language Learners' Success Translates Into a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for Teacher Julie Rowell

Oregon educator boosts student achievement and future prospects at Gresham High School

December 10, 2019

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Nothing is more important to Julie Rowell than removing barriers and expanding opportunities for students at Gresham High School.Rowell's English Language Learner classes engage students who typically have only two to three years of English, propelling them via group learning projects and individualized strategies that have them swiftly engaged in conversations. Her students regularly advance more than a year per grade, and Rowell helps put them on a pathway to higher education by deploying the student-centric AVID system (Advancement Via Individual Determination). A fluent Spanish speaker and dedicated bilingualist who goes the extra mile for struggling students, Rowell also inspires learners with her high expectations and aspirational message of inclusiveness. 

But it was Rowell celebrating success this morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher and Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill. Rowell was named a 2019-20 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Oregon this year, and is among up to 40 honorees for 2019-20. 

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." 

Rowell also mentors and coaches the school district's secondary English Language Learner teachers to enhance and advance their effectiveness and is a model teacher with a data-driven yet hands-on, personal approach. She shares videos of her teaching methods with interested colleagues and employs technology to amp up student engagement wherever possible to accelerate the learning curve. 

"A teacher like Julie Rowell knows how to really connect with students and make an extraordinary impact," said Gallagher. "Her dedication, commitment and creative approach exemplify the inspirational leadership we seek in our Milken Educators." 

"Julie truly models the instruction and coaching we know will make a difference for our students," said Gill. "Our state is strengthened by cultural diversity and language learning, and every day in the classroom Julie is at the forefront of this effort."

"Julie is a stand-out educator who uses highly engaging instructional strategies to ensure English Language Learners achieve at high levels," said Gresham-Barlow School District Superintendent Dr. A. Katrise Perera. "Her willingness to share her expertise with colleagues has had a dramatic impact on our students." 

About Milken Educator Julie Rowell

Nothing is more important to Julie Rowell than removing barriers and expanding opportunities for students who are traditionally underrepresented in universities and professional careers. An English Language Learner (ELL) teacher at Oregon's Gresham High School, Rowell provides case management for active and monitored English learners and teaches English Language Development classes. She uses highly engaging instructional strategies that provide students with solid support while holding them to high standards. Students work with partners or in small groups, participate in Socratic seminars, and incorporate technology in Rowell's classroom as they gain proficiency in English. Using sentence frames, word banks and a gradual release of responsibility, Rowell guides students with only two or three years in U.S. schools in high-level discussions about topics they care about and English learners flourish under Rowell's care, with the majority making more than one year of progress, even those with multiple learning hurdles. While students typically take seven or more years to exit ELL programs, Rowell's students are often ready in less than three years. 

Rowell serves as the district’s secondary school Teacher on Special Assignment, addressing the professional learning needs of ELL teachers. She opens her classroom for observation, participates in coaching conversations, records her lessons on video for others to study and has championed Swivl, a video review and collaboration platform, as a tool for professional growth. Rowell has served on school, district and state committees, mentored student teachers and presented professional development on a wide range of topics. She is an adjunct instructor at Lewis & Clark's Graduate School of Education. 

Rowell speaks Spanish fluently and uses her bilingual skills to engage families and get them involved in their children’s education. She touts the benefits of bilingualism and encourages students to pursue the Oregon State Seal of Biliteracy and study abroad. Rowell also teaches AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), offered as a dual-enrollment class with nearby Mt. Hood Community College. She loops for two years with AVID students; nearly all go on to college, many to four-year institutions with scholarships. Rowell also runs the Newcomer Program at Gresham, helping families new to the school settle in and ensuring they have the resources they need. When two girls whose family had fled the civil war in Rwanda arrived for ninth grade lacking literacy and numeracy, even in their native language, Rowell leaned in to ensure their success. She worked with them during every lunch break, after school and more, recruiting other teachers to do the same. The girls graduated in five years, went to college on scholarships, and have returned to Gresham to talk to other recently arrived students about their experiences. 

Rowell earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish in 2002 from Western Oregon University and a master's degree in bilingual education in 2005 from Portland State University. 

More information about Rowell, 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 2,800 top teachers, principals, and specialists dedicated to strengthening education. 

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2019-20 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis from March 26-28, 2020 where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education. In addition, the Milken Educator Awards' "Why Not Us" program will pair each 2019-20 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. 

More than $140 million in funding, including $70 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, 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 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 selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.

The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even on 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. Everyone is encouraged to watch the tour 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 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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