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Nevada Teacher Rejily Soriano Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award in West Wendover

Kindergarten teacher advances literacy and leadership at West Wendover Elementary

February 08, 2023

Santa Monica, Calif., — Rejily (pronounced "Rej-i-lee") Soriano's emphasis on literacy and strong personal connections at West Wendover Elementary School in West Wendover, Nevada, ensures that her kindergarteners head into first grade prepared to succeed. Beyond the classroom, Soriano helps drive high-quality instruction at the school level by designing professional development and mentoring new teachers. But nothing could have prepared her for the exciting turn of events at today's school assembly: the presentation of a national Milken Educator Award by Founder Lowell Milken in recognition of Soriano's schoolwide impact. The honor comes with a $25,000 unrestricted cash prize that Soriano can use however she chooses. 

Lowell Milken was joined by Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone M. Ebert to bestow the Award upon Soriano. Soriano, a product of Elko County School District's "Grow Your Own" teacher recruitment program, is the first Milken Educator to be awarded in Elko County School District since 2000. 

"Early in her career, Rejily Soriano has established herself as a talented classroom teacher, school leader and mentor," said Lowell Milken. "Her dedication, care and compassion for her students and broader school community represent the qualities we seek in the profession. Our sincere appreciation to Rejily for instilling that same passion in others." 

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. 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. 

"The early learning years are vitally important and Rejily Soriano is a shining example of what an early learning teacher can be," said Superintendent Ebert. "I'm especially proud of the fact that she started her career in Elko County School District's 'Grow your Own' teacher recruitment program and is now leading the way. She is proof the program is working and creating phenomenal teachers. I wholeheartedly thank her for her dedication and for bringing joy to our youngest learners!" 

Soriano joins two other Nevada recipients, Jason Murray of Florence Drake Elementary School and Liz Barnum of Katherine Dunn Elementary School, who were both surprised yesterday in Washoe County. The three are among up to 40 elementary educators to receive the recognition during the 2022-23 school year. They will join a national network of more than 2,900 Milken Educator Award recipients and other leaders from across the country dedicated to strengthening K-12 education. 

Since 1987, 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.  

More About Rejily Soriano 

Classroom Culture: Rejily Soriano holds high expectations for her kindergarteners at Nevada's West Wendover Elementary. Soriano makes strong connections with her young learners, supporting them as they acquire new skills and grow both academically and socially throughout the year. Literacy plays a large part in her classroom. Soriano helps students create their own books, a favorite activity. Most of her students are reading by the end of each year, and in May 2022, 89% reached grade level or above on MAP assessments in both math and ELA. 

School Leadership: A teacher leader at West Wendover Elementary, Soriano is the school's Leader in Me coordinator, sits on the school improvement committee, and designs professional development for the building. She is the lead teacher for kindergarten, mentors new teachers, and is a leader for the school's social-emotional learning efforts. 

Family Connections: Soriano started her career in education in Elko County School District's "Grow Your Own" teacher recruitment program, working with preschool students in the Head Start program before moving up to kindergarten. She builds strong relationships with students and families and communicates with parents often in both English and Spanish, keeping an "open door" policy for discussions about all aspects of students' school experiences. Her unwavering dedication to her job and students is clear as she works towards successful outcomes for every child. 

Education: Soriano is a graduate of Western Governors University, earning a bachelor's in elementary education in 2017 and a master's in curriculum and instruction in 2020.

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 and growing of exemplary 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 this April, 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. Created by Lowell Milken, 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 Milken Family Foundation celebrates more than 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at