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Virginia Educator Surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Math interventionist Pamela Stepko is first recipient in Cumberland County Public Schools and among up to 40 honored nationwide for excellence in education

December 14, 2022

Cumberland, Va., — Cumberland Elementary School math interventionist Pamela Stepko was surprised today with a national Milken Educator Award. The prestigious honor bestowed by the Milken Family Foundation comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Stepko is the first Milken Award recipient from Cumberland County Public Schools and a seven-year veteran of the district. She has spent the entire time at Cumberland Elementary, where she held the positions of pre-K, second and third grade teacher, as well as assistant principal, before her current role serving grades 3 and 4. 

Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop, joined by Virginia First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, presented the Award at a schoolwide assembly in front of cheering students, proud colleagues, local and state dignitaries, and the media. In addition to today's fanfare, Stepko gains lifelong membership into the Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 outstanding educators and leaders from across the country dedicated to strengthening K-12 education. 

"Pamela Stepko's unique combination of leadership and classroom experience makes her a valuable asset to Cumberland Elementary School and the community at large," said Bishop, a Virginia Milken Educator herself from the 2001 class. "Through her creativity, compassion and high expectations for excellence, Pamela builds both academic skill and the confidence in her students to become productive young citizens. I am thrilled to welcome her to our national network of Milken Educators." 

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. 

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. 

"Pamela has an unshakable belief that every child can achieve success in math and this is reflected in the 20-point jump in math performance Cumberland Elementary achieved last year," Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said. "She scrutinizes data to plot a path forward for every child in her school and is constantly finding creative ways to excite young minds about the wonders and possibilities of mathematics." 

More About Pamela Stepko 

Building Capability and Confidence in Math: Stepko helps students build academic skill and confidence in her role as the Cumberland Elementary School math interventionist. Determined to reach every child, Stepko motivates and encourages students by setting clear expectations for their success. She writes problems on the windows so students can see both the math and the world beyond, and sets math content to music to increase retention. Stepko uses data-driven approaches to develop targeted instruction and assess next steps, with the goal of ensuring all her students will learn math, realize their importance and find their voice. Her efforts contribute to positive results: The school's scores on state math assessments have risen 20 percentage points since Stepko stepped in as a math interventionist. When Cumberland Elementary adopted WagiLabs, a social entrepreneurship program in which students develop innovative ideas to address community needs, Stepko was among a small group of teachers selected to implement it. The program is one of many Cumberland Elementary initiatives featured on her YouTube and Twitter channels, where she showcases student successes. 

A School and Community Leader: Before her current role, Stepko taught pre-K, second and third grade, and served as assistant principal where she had a significant positive impact on the school community. At the onset of the pandemic, she created a system using QR codes so families could use cell phones to access videos and handouts, ensuring learning access for students who lacked reliable internet service at home. 

Stepko led Cumberland Elementary through the creation of rubrics to guide teachers on the integration of Virginia's "five Cs" – critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration and citizenship – into the curriculum, and shared the school's "profile of a graduate" at the 2021 Virginia ACSD conference. She served as site testing coordinator, was a member of the school's teacher cabinet and school leadership and instructional strategies teams, and also serves as the Virginia Tiered Systems of Supports (VTSS) coach, leading the school's team of educators through academic, behavior and equity work in this role.

Stepko's leadership extends beyond her school where she presented to the Virginia Department of Education on project-based assessments and led the design of the school's "Collaboration Hallway," which brings student learning outside the classroom and was recognized by leaders in education across the country. 

Education: Stepko earned a Bachelor of Science in NK-6 liberal studies in 2007 and a Master of Education in administration and supervision in 2016 from Longwood University.

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 in April 2023, 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