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$25,000 Milken Educator Award Goes to Pascoag Teacher, One of Nation's Best Educators

Governor Daniel McKee, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green join Milken Family Foundation to honor educator known for creating welcoming spaces for students to thrive

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

March 29, 2022

Pascoag, RI  — In a surprise assembly earlier today, Nancie Lawrence, a reading specialist at Steere Farm Elementary School, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for her work creating welcoming, rewarding environments for her students to learn. Lawrence, who was formerly a third-grade teacher at the school, challenges students to think deeply and work hard for results. Her goal is to hold students to rigorous standards while creating a nurturing environment to learn, and her methods deliver. Her students’ overall ELA proficiency rate on the 2019 state exams was 53 percent, compared with 33 percent for the state and 30 percent for the Burrillville district. 

Governor Daniel McKee and Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green joined Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley to surprise Lawrence with the national honor, which includes an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Lawrence will join a national network of more than 2,800 Milken Educators and education leaders across the U.S. 

"Working with elementary-aged students takes a unique combination of warmth, patience, creativity and passion. Nancie Lawrence brings all of this and more to her students every day," said Dr. Foley, who herself is a 1994 Milken Educator from Indiana. "Her commitment to involve parents, students and teachers in the learning process creates strong bonds in the classroom – and results in excellence for her students." 

Lawrence is among more than 60 educators nationwide to receive the recognition during the 2021-2022 school year and only one of two recipients in Rhode Island. 

"Incredible Rhode Island educators like Steele Farm Elementary School's Nancie Lawrence make a positive difference in lives every day," said Governor Dan McKee. "I join Nancie's loved ones, students, and colleagues in congratulating her on this prestigious recognition as a Milken Educator Award recipient and thanking her for going above and beyond for her school community in so many ways." 

"Throughout this pandemic, Nancie's commitment to excellence in learning has not wavered. We are so proud to have her leading the way and serving as an excellent model and motivator to all educators and school staff in Rhode Island," Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said. "I look forward to watching Nancie continue to lead and help our students make academic, social and emotional strides in the years ahead.'  

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 winners in a video message shared earlier this year thanking "the most incredible educators around the country" and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the "tireless work" they do. 

More about Nancie Lawrence 

Safe Space for Learning: Nancie Lawrence's classroom is a safe space where every child is treated with dignity and respect. Lawrence makes a point of knowing her students deeply so she can tailor her instruction to match their needs and support them toward individual learning goals. Lawrence is a master at helping students cultivate their voices and interact with each other, asking probing questions and ensuring all voices are heard. She often works with small groups, which she rearranges every few weeks as she adjusts based on formative and summative assessments. She challenges her students in myriad ways – and the method works. Lawrence's students regularly score higher across the board on their state ELA exams. 

Serves as a Mentor: As the third-grade lead teacher, Lawrence worked with the principal and other lead teachers to facilitate professional development. When Steere Farm was implementing instructional rounds, Lawrence stepped up and used the third grade team as a model, working with her peers to identify problems of practice and reflect on their own practices to make them better. Some colleagues were hesitant to embrace the program, but Lawrence won them over; the entire district now participates in instructional rounds. Lawrence has served on multiple curriculum committees for ELA and was an elementary science lead teacher. She worked on the Common Core Standards team to build content, scope and sequence, and to design assessments. Lawrence belongs to the International Literacy Association, Kappa Delta Pi and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She mentors student teachers and high schoolers studying in the district's education pathway. As a mentor teacher for Brown University, Lawrence evaluates and guides candidates through the beginning of their master's in education studies. 

Strong Parent/Teacher Relationships: Lawrence believes deeply in parent involvement. She is in regular communication with families and provides a daily blog to update parents on classroom activities. An active part of the Steere Farm family, Lawrence participates in many events and fundraisers, including the annual golf tournament, talent show, dances and basketball games. 

Education: Lawrence earned a bachelor's in elementary and special education in 2006 and a master's in education in reading in 2012 from Rhode Island College. She received National Board Certification in elementary literacy in 2013. 

More information about Lawrence, plus links to photos and video from today’s assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at:  

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.

  • The honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum, 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
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310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell