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San Marin High School Rapping Science Teacher Surprised with a Milken Educator Award and $25,000 in Cash

Nick Williams is One of Two California Teachers to Win National Honor

November 18, 2015

SANTA MONICA, CA — On his resume, San Marin High School teacher Nick Williams describes himself as an “accomplished science-themed rapper” and, in front of national audiences, he’s presented on how to engage students using hip hop in the science classroom.

Williams will have new material for lyrics after today’s schoolwide assembly filled with cheering students, respected colleagues, distinguished officials, media… and a surprise Milken Educator Award complete with $25,000 check.

Williams is one of only 40 educators who will be presented with the prestigious honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s coast-to-coast tour. The foundation has been rewarding outstanding elementary and secondary educators with the Award since 1987.

Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken has visited thousands of classrooms over the past three decades. He presented Williams with the Award alongside California State Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

“Science can – and often should – be a challenging subject for students," said Milken. “By blending his creativity with his subject-based knowledge Nick Williams finds ways to reach out to each and every one of his pupils, from the extremely gifted to those who may be struggling in school. His leadership has dramatically increased the number of young people enrolled in STEM courses, offering them a viable path to success in a 21st century economy.”

As chair of the science and engineering department, Williams helped develop the STEM Marin program, which quickly expanded from 30 to 60 students. Soon thereafter, 120 more wanted to participate. His curriculum includes project-based learning, technology, service and individual learning plans. He also created a ninth-grade earth science course and courses in STEM Engineering and conceptual physics. He guided his science department faculty in the implementation of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.

Williams builds each of his students a website on which to post their finished science work. For the school’s exhibition nights, Williams regularly invites engineers, scientists, professors and community members to provide students with feedback on the projects they’ve built. These imaginative projects have included green storage spaces, model race cars, musical instruments and greenhouses. He also finds and pairs adult mentors with his students.

 As an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) teacher, Williams mentors 30 students. He's known for being able to work with extremely gifted students to those students who struggle due to social, emotional or extreme home situations. Last spring, most of his AVID students applied to college and were accepted.

When the school had difficulty in finding qualified math teachers, he stepped up to teach a lower-level math class and even attended additional training to prepare for it.

Williams is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, having earned a B.S. in evolution and ecology in 2005 and an M.A. in education in 2008.

The Milken Educator Awards program has been described as “the Oscars of teaching” by Teacher magazine. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the Milken Awards are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to MFF.

This year, MFF launched a #MyTeacherRocks Instagram campaign that encourages students to take selfies with their favorite teacher and describe in the caption why their teacher is special. To enter the contest, entrants are asked to follow @MilkenFamilyFdn on Instagram, post their selfie to their individual account and use the #MyTeacherRocks and #MilkenAward hashtags. The three photos with the most “likes” will be selected in February and April 2016. The first winner was selected in November 2015.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at;;; and

The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, were launched 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.