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Great leaps in student literacy land Caroline Eschenbach a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Roanoke, Virginia 3rd-grade teacher brings rising tide of reading to Virginia Heights Elementary

November 01, 2018

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — All students have the need to read and all of them feed that need in Caroline Eschenbach's third grade classes at Virginia Heights Elementary in Roanoke, Virginia. Engaging her students by any means necessary—through literature, word games, news reports and journals—Eschenbach promotes literacy, critical thinking and cognitive development. Eschenbach uses data coupled with hands-on experience and evolving educational strategies to analyze student needs, and then creates customizable individual plans to amp up their skill sets. It's working. Boosting the performance of students at every reading level, Eschenbach's learners are soaring on all metrics with some improving by up to 2 1/2 grade levels.

But her students aren't the only ones on an upward trajectory. Eschenbach herself was elevated today at a surprise school assembly where she was presented with a national Milken Educator Award and an unrestricted $25,000 prize by Milken Family Foundation Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Virginia Superintendent of Public Education James F. Lane. Eschenbach is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Virginia this year, and is among up to 40 honorees for 2018-19.

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

Preparing her students to be part of that future, Eschenbach's classroom is a collaborative, project-oriented laboratory where individual active reading and dynamic small group engagement combine to bring the best from her students. She also integrates her holistic approach with parents, colleagues and the community by mentoring student teachers and collaborating with colleagues to develop the school and district curriculum.

"Caroline Eschenbach brings to life for her students Frederick Douglass' notion that 'Once you learn to read, you will be forever free'," said Foley. "The liberating literacy that Eschenbach brings to her learners is the fundamental cornerstone on which all higher learning is built. We salute Caroline, and welcome her to the pantheon of Milken Educators."

"Caroline Eschenbach finds a way to reach every student in her classroom," Lane said. "She weaves together rigorous content with deeply engaging activities, including fiction, nonfiction, current events, music and movement, to create reading instruction that is interesting and relevant to students. I am sure that she is one of the teachers her students will always remember."

"She is a fabulous teacher. She expresses caring and concern for students every day. We are so proud of Caroline," said Roanoke Superintendent of Schools Rita Bishop.

About Milken Educator Caroline Eschenbach
Literacy is celebrated and reading is an adventure in Caroline Eschenbach's classroom at Virginia Heights Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia. Eschenbach teaches reading to the entire third grade, taking time to learn about students' individual interests and abilities, using data to identify areas of need, and aligning lessons with grade-level standards. She uses fiction and nonfiction, including news articles, bringing in content students find interesting and relevant to their lives. Eschenbach's students learn critical thinking skills through project-based learning, author circles, writing (and reading) journals and playing word games. She incorporates songs, rhythms and movement into her lessons to keep students active and cement content and concepts into their memories.

Eschenbach, whose mother also taught third grade, uses literature to spark discussions of current events, citizenship, community roles and career paths. Students receive authentic, tangible feedback on a regular basis, with tasks or mini-goals, to help them track their own progress. Eschenbach's pupils feel successful, and they are: They post stellar test scores, with results consistently above district averages for snapshots, benchmarks and Standards of Learning assessments. Every student—including English language learners and special needs students—demonstrates growth, with some making up to two and a half years' progress.

Dedicated to continuously improving her craft, Eschenbach devotes personal time to exploring innovative educational strategies and attends national conferences and district training. She mentors student teachers and invites educators from around Roanoke City Public Schools to observe her lessons. She thrives on collaboration, participating in professional learning communities and presenting at district "share fairs," where colleagues bring lessons to share with each other. Eschenbach helped create posters for the district on key resources for English teachers and students and has contributed to the writing and reading curriculum. She communicates openly and often with parents, using school literacy nights to help families incorporate reading into students’ home lives.

Eschenbach earned a bachelor's in interdisciplinary studies from Virginia Tech in 2010 and a master's in elementary education from the University of Virginia in 2012.

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

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, the 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, 2018-19 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans from March 21-24, 2019. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about 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 learning 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 are 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, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 31 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.

Lynne Russo 
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