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Randolph Teacher Taylor Thai's Dedication to English Language Learners Translates into a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Thai makes learning accessible for kindergartners and first graders at Margaret L. Donovan Elementary School

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

March 30, 2022

Santa Monica, Calif.,  A successful classroom is one where students feel seen, understood and comfortable to reach their full potential, both academically and socially. Taylor Thai's classroom of English language learners (ELLs) at Margaret L. Donovan Elementary School in Randolph, Massachusetts, does just that. Thai invites her kindergarteners and first graders into the wonders of learning, crafting tailored curriculum, promoting independence, and engaging families at the outset. Today at a surprise ceremony, Thai was recognized with a national Milken Educator Award in front of appreciative colleagues, students, education officials and media. It was a fitting representation of the community pride that she has helped to foster, both as a classroom teacher and a team leader for ELL instruction. 

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Deputy Commissioner Regina Robinson joined Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley to present Thai with the prestigious recognition, which includes a $25,000 cash prize that she can use however she likes. 

In addition to today's celebration, Thai will join the national Milken Educator Network of more than 2,800 exceptional educators and leaders across the country dedicated to strengthening K-12 education. 

"Educators like Taylor Thai set the bar high for solutions to help all students succeed," said Dr. Foley, who is herself a 1994 Indiana Milken Educator. "Her compassion and persistence to meet student needs are inspiring and have positively impacted English language learners across the school. What's more, Taylor understands the essential role that families play, becoming a trusted source for parents and strengthening the school community. I congratulate Taylor and welcome her into the Milken Educator Network." 

"It's a pleasure to recognize Mrs. Thai in front of her students," Deputy Commissioner Robinson said. "I'm grateful for the work she does here in Randolph and for her work with DESE on teacher recruitment and retention and education policy." 

Massachusetts Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley offered his congratulations: "So many educators like Mrs. Thai work hard day in and day out without a lot of fanfare, so it's great to see her recognized in this way," he said. "The award is a good reminder of how critical the teaching profession is, and I hope today's surprise announcement will encourage some of her students to consider teaching as a career." 

Thai is among more than 60 educators nationwide who will receive the Award during the 2021-22 school year and the only recipient from Massachusetts. She joins two previous recipients from Randolph Public Schools honored in 2005 and 2015. 

"We are grateful to teachers like Mrs. Thai who have worked hard to support students, especially given the challenges of the past two years," said Governor Charlie Baker. "The pandemic created learning challenges for all students, especially English language learners, and dedicated teachers like Mrs. Thai make a huge difference as we address those challenges and work together to ensure kids get the education they deserve." 

"Teachers like Mrs. Thai who serve multilingual students have worked harder than ever during the pandemic, first through remote teaching and learning, and then by reconnecting with their students and families in person," Lt. Governor Karyn Polito said. "We are lucky to have dedicated professionals like her in our schools, and we wish her and her students all the best." 

"Mrs. Thai's ability to support her colleagues, connect with families, and put her students at the center of all her efforts is a reminder of all that Massachusetts teachers do," Education Secretary James Peyser said. "It's a pleasure to see her work recognized in this way."

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 Awards are not designated for lifetime achievement. 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. 

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.

More About Taylor Thai

Integrating ESL Instruction: Thai is renowned for the magic she works with her kindergarten and first grade students. When she began working at the school, it did not have a curriculum for ELLs, so she worked with the English Learner Department to create a district curriculum that is now in use. Her classroom is filled with alternative work stations, including a stage, so her kindergarten and first grade students can choose their favorite learning environment. Thai collaborates with general education teachers on lessons that incorporate English as a second language instruction and make learning accessible to all. Donovan serves approximately 100 current and 40 former ELLs each year, with up to 88 percent of Thai's students meeting or exceeding targeted growth goals on ACCESS English language proficiency assessments. 

School Leadership: In addition to leading Donovan's ELL team, Thai mentors colleagues and coordinates the building's ACCESS testing and screening. She served on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s teacher advisory cabinet and received the department’s InSPIRED fellowship, to help increase diversity in the state's educator ranks. 

Community Connections: Donovan serves a growing number of Vietnamese families, with whom Thai has built strong relationships. She ensures materials are translated and reaches out by phone and through home visits to integrate them into the school community. Families of ELLs increasingly attend family events, orientations, open houses and after-school sessions because they know Thai will be there to help them take an active role in their children's learning. 

Learning Adaptation: When Donovan moved to remote learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thai delivered materials to students' homes and organized a drive-by parade to keep families and teachers connected. She engaged the whole class in a daily Zoom, then led small virtual reading groups from her home classroom. When Donovan moved to a hybrid model, Thai put together individual learning packets so she could teach her students outdoors on in-person days. Whatever the challenge, Thai is eager to find a solution.

Education: Thai earned a bachelor's in legal studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2006 and a master's in elementary education from Lesley University in 2011.

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

Along with the financial prize, Milken Educator Award 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 MilkenEducatorAwards.org 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 MFF.org.

Press Contact:

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


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