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Milken Family Foundation Surprises Tulsa Principal with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Council Oak Elementary's Aubrey Flowers recognized for outstanding leadership, among more than 60 recipients nationwide, two in Oklahoma

Oprah Winfrey congratulates Milken Educators in heartwarming video message as 'light in this world'

April 08, 2022

TULSA, Okla. — Council Oak Elementary School's principal received the surprise of a lifetime during a schoolwide assembly today when she was presented with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award in front of cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials, and media. Aubrey Flowers was recognized as one of the top educators in the nation for her innovative and inclusive approach to learning and the collaborative environment she fosters with colleagues. 

"Outstanding principals demonstrate exceptional leadership for their staff and students alike, and Aubrey embodies this each day at her school," said Greg Gallagher, senior program director for the Milken Educator Awards. "Her attention to detail, inspiring dedication and expert ability to spearhead her school through new learning during the pandemic are just a few reasons why we are proud to honor Aubrey today." 

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Milken Educator Awards celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it. The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. 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. 

"Aubrey demonstrates unwavering respect for every child in her care," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. "As an innovative leader who inspires and empowers her teachers to meet the individual learning needs of each student, she nurtures a school culture centered on creativity, patience and growth. We are so proud to have Aubrey represent Oklahoma on the national stage as a Milken Educator." 

Oprah, a longtime education advocate, shared her congratulations to this year's winners in a video message shared earlier this year thanking “the most incredible educators around the country” and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the “tireless work” they do. 

More About Aubrey Flowers 

Leadership through innovation: Flowers excels at projecting a calming, confident leadership style that encourages students and colleagues to strive for excellence. During COVID-19 school closures in 2020, Flowers adapted the school's strategy toward virtual learning to accommodate younger students who were struggling to remain focused during Zoom instruction. She created teams that met virtually to plan, troubleshoot and create a playbook of best practices to realign teachers into grade-level teams in order for them to teach one subject across two grades. Flowers also incorporated small-group pods of three to five children in an effort for the children to effectively focus on the lesson while allowing the teacher to have a better handle on the virtual class. Her commitment to excellence has benefitted principals districtwide through her role this year as president of Tulsa Public Schools' elementary principals association. 

Challenges breed success: Flowers is known as charismatic, engaging and inspiring to both students and faculty and cares deeply about students’ academic success. Council Oak was among the district’s top-performing elementary schools when she took the helm in 2017, but she was determined to show growth, especially in math. In 2019, 66% of students showed overall proficiency in reading and math based on the district’s framework, with 56% showing growth in math and 65% showing growth in reading. Another challenge Flowers faced was when the school’s name was opposed. Originally named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Flowers cemented community respect as she guided the school's name change with public input to Council Oak, which commemorates an historic tree near the school where the Creek Nation Council first met in 1836 after being forcibly resettled in Oklahoma. In order for her teachers to effectively relay this process and navigate questions both in the classroom or outside the school, she equipped faculty with communication tools by sending them to the National Equity Foundation for equity training and encouraging them to focus on the students. 

Education: Flowers earned a bachelor's in social studies in 2003 from Portland State University and a master's of education in administration in 2017 from the University of Oklahoma.

More About the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

Along with the $25,000 financial prize, 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 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

Press Contact:

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