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Krystal Contreras First in San Benito CISD to Receive $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Dr. C.M. Cash Elementary teacher connects writing to the real world  

February 15, 2019

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Krystal Contreras, a fourth-grade writing teacher at Dr. C.M. Cash Elementary School in San Benito, Texas, keeps her students on their toes. Whether turning her classroom into a picnic, playing word Jenga or conducting a full lesson under black light, her students are always engaging with classroom content in new ways.

But today, it was Contreras who got the surprise of a lifetime when she was announced as the recipient of Texas' 2018-19 Milken Educator Award. The honor comes with a $25,000 cash prize that she can use however she chooses. Contreras is the first recipient from the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District and joins a total of 33 educators who will receive the honor this 2018-19 season. 

Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath presented the award to Contreras at an all-school assembly.

"Krystal Contreras understands that writing is foundational to every skill we learn in school—from analyzing and critical thinking to problem-solving and communicating with others," said Foley, herself a Milken Educator from Indiana's 1994 class. "I commend Krystal for instilling lifelong lessons in her students, and look forward to her contributions to the National Milken Educator Network."

In both the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 school years, the percentage of the school’s fourth-graders who passed end-of-year writing assessments was the highest in the district.

"Krystal Contreras reflects the very best of the teaching profession in Texas," said Morath. "By holding her students to the very highest standards, her hard work and dedication benefit her students today while strengthening the Texas of tomorrow."

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," has been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative's goals are two-fold: to celebrate, elevate and activate innovators who are guiding America's next generation of leaders and to inspire young, capable people to consider teaching as a career. Milken Educators believe, "The future belongs to the educated."

"On behalf of Texas, I want to tell you how proud we are of your success as well as the achievements of your students," noted Texas Governor Greg Abbott to Contreras. "Thank you to Krystal for showing us the incredible impact that teachers can make on their lives."

About Milken Educator Krystal Contreras
Krystal Contreras, a fourth-grade writing teacher at Dr. C.M. Cash Elementary School in San Benito, Texas, holds her students to the highest of standards. From the 2016-17 school year to the 2017-18 school year, there was a five percent increase in the school’s fourth-graders who passed end-of-year writing assessments, from 82% to 87%. Both years, the percentage was the highest in the district, and Contreras played a key role in the increase by spending the summer researching new writing strategies and attending professional development workshops. She came back in the 2017-18 year with writing boot camps in the cafeteria and brought a well-known writing expert into class to model lessons.

Contreras is always looking for new strategies to move her students forward and puts a lot of time into developing innovative and engaging lessons. Her classroom is organized and inviting, with flexible seating options. Students often work in small groups, crowded around laptops as they work on a lesson about using reference materials or vocabulary.

Contreras focuses on all the different components of good writing. To change up the environment, she sometimes transforms her classroom into a picnic; other times Contreras switches off the overhead lights, turning on black lights to make teeth and shoelaces glow. Contreras goes to great lengths to help every student. She tutors after school and on Saturdays, making extra learning sessions fun by incorporating games like Jenga into her instruction. Contreras's goal: to help students become independent problem-solvers in the real world.

Colleagues know Contreras is always willing to help with instructional strategies. When she came to Cash, she brought her own printer, laminator and copier to perfect her teaching materials—all of which she shared freely with her fellow educators. Contreras has written curriculum and delivered professional development during the district's "Teachers Teaching Teachers" conference. She has worked on vertical alignment teams and professional learning communities, the attendance committee and the Superintendent’s Advisory Council. A graduate of Cash and San Benito High School, Contreras is a fixture at after-school activities and events.

Contreras earned a bachelor's in English and communications in 2004 from University of Texas Pan American.

More information about Contreras, 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.