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Raleigh Educator Surprised with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award During Teacher Appreciation Week

Millbrook Magnet Elementary School's Victoria Lightfoot among 60 recipients nationwide, second in North Carolina 

Oprah Winfrey congratulates Milken Educators in heartwarming video message as 'light in this world' 

U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona says Milken Educators "personify excellence in education"

May 06, 2022

Raleigh, N.C. — Teacher Appreciation Week this year was extra special for one educator in Raleigh who received the surprise of a lifetime—a $25,000 Milken Educator Award presented by the Milken Family Foundation during a schoolwide assembly with cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials and media. Victoria Lightfoot, an instructional coach at Millbrook Magnet Elementary School and former third grade teacher at Cedar Fork Elementary, was recognized for her exceptional leadership and ability to foster positive relationships while achieving learning benchmarks. As North Carolina's second award recipient this season, she joins Justin Scarbro of Greensboro, a social studies teacher who was surprised in February at Walter Hines Page High School. 

"Victoria Lightfoot is an incredible example of how extraordinary teachers are role models for their students and colleagues alike," said Stephanie Bishop, vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and a 2001 Virginia Milken Educator. "As a third grade teacher who grew to become an instructional coach, Victoria truly understands how to share what works in the classroom to bolster achievement across the school. Congratulations, Victoria, and welcome to the Milken Educator Network!" 

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Milken Educator Awards celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it. The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award. 

Offering her congratulations to Lightfoot, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said she’s been an invaluable asset to the schools where she’s been a member of the faculty. 

"It's clear that Victoria's devotion to education and her focus on powerful teaching and learning has made a measurable difference not only for her students, but also for her colleagues in their own classrooms," Truitt said. "She inspires her students and empowers other teachers by sharing what she learns about effective instruction and how best to connect with students. The Millbrook school community is very fortunate to have her, and North Carolina is lucky to have her helping to lead for the kind of excellent education that all children in the state deserve." 

Oprah, a longtime education advocate, shared her congratulations to this year's recipients in a video message thanking "the most incredible educators around the country" and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the "tireless work" they do. U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona said Milken Educators "personify excellence in education" and "inspire leadership and motivate students to excel." 

More About Victoria Lightfoot 

Building Relationships: As a third grade teacher turned instructional coach, Lightfoot truly understands the correlation between professional development of educators and student achievement. During her time as a teacher, she encouraged students to exchange ideas and learn from each other through her culturally relevant lessons and targeted, frequent feedback. Now, while maintaining a direct impact on students, she supports teachers in implementing high-quality math instruction, with particular focus on beginning teachers and those new to the state. Known for incorporating art and music into her daily lessons, Lightfoot's third graders knew they could depend on her. The test scores they achieved illustrated this, with her 2018-2019 class scoring 89.5% in grade-level proficiency and 73.7% in college and career readiness on the North Carolina Reading End-of-Grade test. 

Leadership: Lightfoot's commitment to supporting school and district colleagues is evident as she co-chairs the Millbrook school improvement team and serves on the instructional leadership team by facilitating ongoing professional learning and academic discourse. She was on Cedar Fork's school improvement team, led professional learning, was on the district’s math focus group and wrote curriculum for the district and North Carolina Museum of Art. Lightfoot also has written grants for the United Arts Council, served as a Discovery Education ambassador and presented at the National Science Teachers Association conference. She coordinated Cedar Fork's mentor program for new teachers, initiated a buddy program that encourages teachers to partner together for improved student outcomes and helped launch a new group focused on equity issues. 

Education: Lightfoot earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education in 2010 and a master's in K-8 math and science in 2014, from Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.

More About the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

Along with the $25,000 financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 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. 

  • In June, the honorees will attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, 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 (MFFs) mentoring program, in which freshman 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.
  • Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to serve in 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 get 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

Press Contact:

Jana Rausch
Vice President, Communications
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell