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STEM Exploration Narrows Achievement Gaps, Earns Louisville's Jessica Goodman a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear joins in honoring James E. Farmer Elementary School teacher as model for reaching all students

April 22, 2022

Louisville, KY — When the pandemic paused in-person education, James E. Farmer Elementary STEM educator Jessica Goodman's response was: challenge accepted. She set to work adapting her instruction to keep students connected, incorporating STEM fundamentals with elements of literacy into a series of "Get Your Geek On" experiments her students could do at home. Engaging activities like the Skittles Rainbow Experiment, Colorful Chemical Reactions and Building Creature Catchers tapped into students' interests and sparked their imaginations. 

Goodman's fun, inventive instructional practices have led to narrowing the achievement gap and landing a national $25,000 Milken Educator Award. In a surprise assembly today, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and Education Commissioner Dr. Jason E. Glass joined Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop to present Goodman with the honor before cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials and the media. Goodman will join the national Milken Educator Network, a cadre of more than 2,800 educators and leaders across the U.S. dedicated to furthering quality K-12 education. 

"While the pandemic altered instruction across the nation, nothing stopped Jessica Goodman from showing up for her students and finding new ways to reach them," said Bishop, who is herself a 2001 Milken Educator from Virginia. "By reframing educational challenges as opportunities to refine her practices today, Jessica demonstrates the persistence and passion of a Milken Educator." 

Goodman is among some 60 educators coast-to-coast who will receive the Award during the 2021-22 school year and the second recipient from Kentucky. Kevin Dailey, a history teacher at Ballyshannon Middle School, earned the Award on February 23. 

"I am honored to congratulate Jessica on being named a Milken Educator," Governor Beshear said. "Teachers like Jessica have worked tirelessly to create new ways of learning for students. They are engaged and enjoy what Mrs. Goodman teaches because of the level of care and dedication she instills in each of her lessons. She works tirelessly to ensure every Farmer Elementary student achieves at a high level and is valued." 

Governor Beshear added, "Our administration is committed to strengthening and lifting up education and we are inspired by the work of dedicated teachers like Jessica. Teachers benefit everyone in Kentucky by educating our future workforce. I hope she can serve as an inspiration for all current and future educators." 

Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Jason E. Glass also shared a few inspirational words for the award-winning educator. 

"I am so happy to be in Jefferson County today with the Milken Educator Awards to celebrate Jessica Goodman, one of Kentucky's outstanding educators," said Commissioner Glass. "Goodman engages her students through their interests with creative and innovative practices and promotes a culture of continuous improvement and resilience. Above all, she leads her classroom with empathy, making sure each and every student feels worthy of her attention and time." 

Goodman and students created the Junior Beta robotics team which has gone on to win Kentucky State Championships for the last four years and were National Champions in 2017 and 2019, said Commissioner Glass. 

"Students have the opportunity to bring STEM to life with the team's robots, Skit, Mr. Metal and BB3, and get to experience the thrill of their hard work paying off," added Commissioner Glass. "Goodman's support of academic endeavors outside of the classroom help students develop critical thinking, decision making and problem-solving skills." 

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 recipients in a video message thanking "the most incredible educators around the country" and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the "tireless work" they do. 

More About Jessica Goodman 

Creativity in Reaching All Students: As Farmer's technology coordinator, Goodman coordinated Chromebook distribution and maintenance during virtual learning, coaching teachers through content filters, login access, Google Meet and Google Classroom. When she identified challenges with English language learner (ELL) participation in online learning, she collaborated with ESL teachers, classroom teachers and families; created differentiated lessons for ELL students; and held daily office hours online for extra help. 

Engaging Students and Families: The entire school participates in Hour of Code and Minecraft Education. Goodman's annual STEAM night has doubled in size since she took over, with 300 families attending last year. Students and families move through activity centers where they make aluminum foil boats and slime, program robots, produce digital art, work with 3D printers, view the constellations on iPads, and take pictures in a green screen "mad scientist" photo booth. 

Robotics: Goodman started the school's Junior Beta robotics team in 2016, leading students through the design, creation and testing of robots, including documenting successes and failures so they can optimize their robots' performance. The team’s robots have included Skit, which sorted Skittles candies by color; Mr. Metal, which collected metal for recycling; and BB3 (Beta Balloon Bot), which blew up balloons whose color matched balls dropped into the robot. The team has won the Kentucky Junior Beta state championship four times and earned top honors at the National Junior Beta Convention twice. 

Leadership: Goodman is Farmer's Quick Recall coach, academic coordinator and written assessment coach. She is a Google Level 1 certified educator and serves on the school’s Site Based Decision Making committee. Goodman led a session on STEM at the Jefferson County Public Schools summer institute for educators and was chosen for the district’s inaugural one-year Aspiring Leaders Principal Certification Program with Spalding University. She collaborates with many local organizations to bring STEM programs to Farmer, including the University of Louisville Speed School of Engineering, Kentucky Science Center, Parklands of Floyd Creek and Idlewild Butterfly Farm. 

Education: Goodman earned a bachelor's in elementary education in 2013 from the University of Louisville and a master's in teacher leadership in 2018 from Bellarmine University.

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.

  • In June, the honorees will attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, 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 MilkenEducatorAwards.org 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 MFF.org.

Press Contact:

Jana Rausch
Vice President, Communications
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell


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