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Comprehend This: Vail, Arizona, English Teacher Brittany Matsushino Receives Milken Educator Award and $25,000 Cash Prize

November 16, 2015

SANTA MONICA, CA — Cienega High School English teacher Brittany Matsushino is no stranger to planning school events. As the heart and soul of school spirit at Cienega, she has taken enthusiasm and morale to unprecedented levels, organizing everything from prom, homecoming, schoolwide assemblies, drives and relays. Today she got the shock of her life when she realized that this afternoon’s assembly was a gathering in her honor.

Before cheering students, respected colleagues, distinguished officials and the media, Matsushino was surprised with a Milken Educator Award and a financial prize of $25,000. How’s that for school spirit?

Matsushino is among up to only 40 educators who will be presented with the prestigious honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s (MFF) coast-to-coast tour across the country. MFF 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 Matsushino with the Award joined by Arizona Department of Education and local officials.

“Brittany Matsushino is a dedicated, spirited and inspired leader who has taken Cienega High School to new heights,” said Milken. “Her classroom is a hub of interaction and engagement as students are pushed to think critically, set high expectations and track their progress. The critical reading, research and analytical skills Brittany instills in her students with gusto will carry them through college, career and life. I look forward to following her trajectory as she continues to make an indelible impact on the school, faculty and students in the community and beyond.” 

“Seeing an amazing educator like Brittany Matsushino honored with a Milken Educator Award is a moment I will remember for a very long time,” said Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. “There is no doubt that her students, fellow teachers and the entire Cienega community benefit from her passion and knowledge. My hope is that this award will allow her to make an even bigger impact for many years to come as a model of excellence in the teaching profession on a national level.”

With six years of education under her belt, Matsushino puts a laser focus on achievement in her classroom at Cienega, propelling her students to mastery using higher-order questioning techniques, engaging content and a persistence to ensure full understanding. An example is a HALAMA (Historical/Literary/Movie Analysis) project she coordinates, which combines reading, research, analysis and presentations. Students read about a real-life hero of their choice and analyze how the time affected that person’s life.

Matsushino has a keen eye for identifying students’ strengths and areas of need, and makes herself available after hours to work with students on improving their skills and helping them to grasp material.

Junior-year teachers praise her former students’ abilities to comprehend text and come into the grade well-prepared.  Her students’ 2014 state AIMS reading scores were at 89% passing, as compared to the state average of 28%, and 76% passing for writing, compared to the state average of 39%.

A Cienega Bobcat through and through, Matsushino is a student council teacher and during the 2014-15 school year, served as co-sponsor of the student council. In this capacity, she spent hours coordinating student events and boosted morale to an all-time high. Student council members put their trust in her to apply real-life solutions to council problems and teach them to make business decisions. She also organized, maintained and ran all club charters and fundraiser approvals.

To fellow faculty, Matsushino has been a cognitive coach and mentor. She has provided crucial guidance to new teachers and has helped them become acclimated to Cienega’s culture. Consistently seeking opportunities to make the campus a better place, Matsushino has served as the voice of teachers on the school’s site council for the past two years, on which she has helped shape rules and policies to benefit Cienega’s future.

Matsushino’s commitment to excellence has extended to the district, state and beyond. Through her role as a coordinator for the district’s Beyond Textbooks (BT) instructional program, she provided professional development on its teaching and learning frameworks. The district’s partners on the program include more than 100 school districts and charter schools across Arizona, California, Idaho and Wyoming.

Matsushino earned her bachelor’s in secondary education from Arizona State University and is pursuing a master’s at Concordia University - Portland in educational leadership.

More information about Matsushino, plus photos and a video from today’s assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

Arizona is home to two Milken Educator Award recipients this year. Nicki Derryberry, advanced STEM coordinator and a biotechnology teacher at Red Mountain High School in Mesa Public Schools, was surprised with the honor this morning. Learn more about her here:

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 November 2015, and February and April 2016.

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.

Press Contact:

Jana Rausch
Communications Director
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell