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Somerset ISD Master Teacher Amber Simpson Earns Milken Educator Award and $25,000

Von Ormy's Simpson is district's first Award recipient and sole Texan honored this season 

February 07, 2017

Santa Monica, Calif., — Amber Simpson, a master teacher at Barrera Veterans Elementary School in Von Ormy, got the surprise of a lifetime when she was presented with a Milken Educator Award—and $25,000—at an all-school assembly. Simpson is Somerset Independent School District's first winner of the prestigious Award, the sole Texan to receive the honor this 2016-17 season, and among up to only 35 honorees nationwide. She can use the cash prize however she chooses.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Somerset Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Saul Hinojosa joined in the celebration along with Dr. Gary Stark, who represented the Milken Family Foundation. Stark is a Milken Educator and the CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

This season marks the Milken Educator Awards' 30th year changing the lives of outstanding educators.

"Amber Simpson is an exemplary leader and mentor who works every day to ensure a quality educational opportunity for Barrera Veterans Elementary students," said Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation. "I commend Amber for her commitment and thank her for choosing teaching as a career."

"Texas schools are filled with some of the best teachers in America who are called to their profession," said Abbott. "I am proud the Milken Educator Awards has recognized Amber Simpson for her exceptional work in educating our future leaders."

Barrera Veterans Elementary is a rural school that serves a predominantly Latino high-poverty population. To improve educator instruction and student achievement, it has been implementing TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement for three years through its partnership with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. As a TAP master teacher, Simpson is a vital part of the school's TAP leadership team, sharing duties with the administrators and fellow master and mentor teachers.

"Amber Simpson embodies the quality educators that can be found in Texas classrooms from our large urban areas to our close-knit rural communities," said Morath. "Simpson's hard work and dedication benefit her students today while strengthening the Texas of tomorrow."

In her role, Simpson works with teachers of students from kindergarten through fourth grade. She helps facilitate weekly professional development meetings, during which she coaches faculty on systematically tracking their students' progress and developing action plans to reinforce strengths and address areas of improvement. This work is complemented by observing educators in the classroom, modeling and testing new instructional techniques, introducing curriculum and assessing students' learning along the way.

Through the staff's effort with the instructional model, Barrera has received the highest state accountability rating of Met Standard. Equally important is that students are achieving more than a year's worth of value-added growth as compared to similar schools throughout the state.

Simpson, who served as a team lead and TAP mentor teacher before becoming a master teacher, relishes her role as a resource for her colleagues. In addition to the meaningful guidance that she provides, she makes presentations each year at the orientation for new teachers and hosts several site visits from other TAP schools to share and maximize the impact of effective best practices. Beyond the school, Simpson serves on several district curriculum committees and mentors new TAP master teachers in the district.

Well-known in the community and respected by parents, Simpson provides one-on-one tutoring for students, with whom she develops long-term relationships. She motivates students to excel in school, encourages them to plan for college and attends their graduation ceremonies. Simpson's former students return often to Barrera to share their successes with her.

Simpson earned a Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary studies in 1999 from Texas State University, and a master's in educational leadership in 2014 from Concordia University.

More information about Simpson, 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. Besides the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Simpson's honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top principals, teachers and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2016-17 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum, March 23-25, 2017, in New Orleans. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about the importance of 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 program, which includes powerful professional development 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.

Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then 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.

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 about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.