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Knoxville teacher wins $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Paula Franklin of West High School teaches American Government 

November 16, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — On the morning of the AP Government exam, Paula Franklin of West High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, can be found handing out breakfast and personalized notes of encouragement to her students. Today, Franklin received a giant boost of confidence of her own in the form of a Milken Educator Award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize.

Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken and Tennessee Commissioner of Education Dr. Candice McQueen surprised Franklin with the honor in front of a gymnasium packed with her peers, students, dignitaries and media.

Franklin is among up to 45 honorees who will receive this national recognition for 2017-18.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," has been opening minds and shaping futures for 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 also 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."

"When teachers prepare their students to become self-reliant adults, it makes all the difference in their lives," said Milken. "I was fortunate to have public school teachers who encouraged me to reflect on and affirm my role in American democracy. Paula Franklin is that type of educator. She teaches her students to think critically and develop their focus for college, career and life. Congratulations to Paula on this award and for being truly deserving of the name, 'teacher.'"

About Milken Educator Paula Franklin
Paula Franklin of West High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, serves breakfast to her students on the morning of the AP Government exam. She also handwrites each one a note of encouragement, and it seems to work. Eighty-two percent of her students pass with an average score of 3.59, which far exceeds the national average of 50 percent and a 2.65 score. What's more, enrollment in her challenging course has doubled since she took over the class.

Franklin sets high expectations and prompts her students to learn in their own way, delivering the necessary preparation tools that propel them to succeed. She incorporates instructional practices such as simulations, cooperative learning projects and writing assignments that develop a historical basis as well as critical analysis of American democracy. Her classroom is a trusted environment which encourages fairness for all opinions to be freely expressed during peer instruction activities and seminar-style discussions. She also demands her students develop action plans and goals for the future that will direct their college and career focus.

As a member of the school's leadership and instructional focus teams, Franklin participates in weekly data-driven sessions with teachers of all content areas concerning student progress, celebrations and interventions, and often writes and revises school curriculum. Recently becoming sophomore class dean, Franklin helps determine student pathways at the end of the year, tracks their needs and arranges teacher recommendations. She also played a critical role in launching the high school's new International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP), in conjunction with its partner middle school, to support academic and personal growth for students in the sixth through tenth grades.

Franklin has a knack for teaching others how to teach well. She leads professional development sessions for government teachers throughout Knox County and mentors new teachers. Beyond academics, Franklin is visible around campus, supporting students' extra-curricular activities especially as the prom adviser and cheerleading coach.

Franklin is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science with minors in history and secondary education in 2010, and a Master of Science in teacher education (secondary teaching) in 2011.  

More information about Franklin, plus links to photos and a video from today’s assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at Later today, Katherine Watkins, an English literature teacher at Millington Central High School in Millington, received the second and final Milken Educator Award for Tennessee this season.  More information about her can be found here:

"It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state," said McQueen. "Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce."

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, Franklin's 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, 2017-18 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., March 20-23, 2018. 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 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 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 first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 30 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.