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Engaging and Elevating 1st Grade "Scholars" Earns Janet Do a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Portland, Oregon teacher lifts student spirits and test scores at Whitman Elementary

December 03, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Learning takes flight in Janet Do's first-grade classroom in Portland, OR, thanks to an eclectic yet rigorous approach. Leading her eager students in songs and rhythmic chants that help internalize important facts and concepts, Do also puts a higher-education spin on elementary learning as she refers to her young charges as "scholars" and "mentors," employing individually targeted instruction that is differentiated to suit each student's aptitudes and needs. Amping up student engagement with fun classroom activities serves a dual purpose: driving discipline referrals down and pushing achievement scores up, with most of her students making at least a 1.5 year leap in reading.

Yet it was Do who made a big advance this morning at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Deputy Director of the Oregon Department of Education Carmen Xiomara Urbina. An excited Do 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 Oregon 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."

Making her students part of that brighter, better educated future for Do also includes encouraging community and family engagement, mentoring young teachers, promoting colleagues' professional development and advancing the school and district curriculum. As a product of Portland public schools herself, Do is gifted with experience, empathy and insight into local student needs including learners with behavioral challenges, special needs or transient home-life situations.

"As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Misérables, 'To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark,'" said Foley. "And Janet Do is a keeper of that flame, igniting a passion for learning in her students through her own love of knowledge, dedication to the craft of teaching and a multifaceted creative approach. We gladly welcome her into the proud fellowship of Milken Educators."

"Janet's well-rounded approach to supporting early learners is inspiring, and the success of her instruction is evidenced by her students' enthusiasm and growth," said Director of the Oregon Department of Education Colt Gill. "I feel honored to recognize her as this year's Milken Educator Award recipient in Oregon."

About Milken Educator Janet Do
Walk into Janet Do’s first-grade classroom at Whitman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, and you'll find a class of excited, fully engaged students making great strides in academic and social-emotional learning. Do leads them in rhythmic songs and chants to cement concepts, facts and vocabulary as they work in small groups or independently. In her "Justice Fighters" unit, Do introduces her young students to social issues in the community, taking on complex topics in an age-appropriate way. She constantly monitors the progress of every student, differentiating instruction to remove barriers, and works hard to make the learning standards accessible for all students without sacrificing rigor. Do covers the walls with work and instruction charts that include photos of herself and the children, encouraging students to visualize themselves in the work. She purposely uses academic language to refer to her young pupils, calling them "scholars" and "mentors."

Do has worked on curriculum, serves on the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support team, and has led professional development for her colleagues on differentiating instruction. Her excitement about the district's new EngageNY reading curriculum inspired colleagues during the transition. Administrators often send new teachers to observe in her classroom. Do's instruction helps her students make great strides: More than 70% of her class demonstrated upwards of 1.5 years' growth in reading last year, though only two of her 21 students began the year reading at grade level. Classroom management is also a strength, with discipline referrals decreasing from 10 per week during her students' kindergarten year to just 10 for the entire year in her first-grade classroom.

Do is a master at building community and creates a classroom that students and families love. A product of Portland Public Schools, she forms strong, genuine relationships, helps all students set and reach attainable goals, incorporates brain science and mindfulness techniques into her teaching, and is quick to advocate for children with special needs. Whitman serves an area with many transient families, so Do welcomes new students into her classroom throughout the year, quickly making them and their families feel at home. She spends recess playing games on the playground; at lunchtime, students who have returned their daily reading logs earn the privilege of eating lunch with her. Do speaks Vietnamese and was instrumental in planning Whitman's first Multicultural Night, where she set up a booth to teach children how to use chopsticks.

Do earned a bachelor's degree in arts and letters in 2012 and a master's in education in 2013 from Portland State University.

More information about Do, 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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