Teacher at Annie Fisher Surprised By Milken Award: Education’s “Oscar” Came With a $25,000 Check.

SPOTLIGHT on EXCELLENCE   Issue 2  January 25, 2013


Teacher at Annie Fisher Surprised By Milken Award:  Education’s “Oscar” Came With a $25,000 Check.

Tamika Knight stands behind her class after receiving the award.  On the right is Dr. Jane Foley, Senior Vice President of the Milken Family Foundation.
What was billed as a school assembly and celebration turned into a shocking surprise today for fifth grade teacher Tamika Knight of the Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School, when she was presented with the prestigious Milken Educator Award.  The unsuspecting Ms. Knight, who sat quietly behind her students during the initial portion of the event, opened her eyes wide in utter disbelief when she heard her name announced.
“For the first time, I am speechless,” she said after a long series of hugs and kisses from school officials and her teaching colleagues. “I personally want to thank my students. I cannot do what I do without my students and the staff and administrators here at Annie Fisher.”
The event was originally publicized as a special recognition in the school gymnasium to Annie Fisher STEM from Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor for having been selected as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education last September.
In addition to the commissioner, those who participated in the deception to surprise Ms. Knight included: Superintendent Christina M. Kishimoto, Mayor Pedro E. Segarra, Hartford Board of Education Chairman Matthew K. Poland, Principal Melony M. Brady and Dr. Jane Foley, Senior Vice President of the Milken Educator Awards, who engaged the school’s 356 students in an elaborate quiz game that led to the announcement.
Tamika Knight flanked by (L. to R.) Mayor Pedro Segarra, Dr. Christina Kishimoto, and Matt Poland, CEO of the Hartford Public Library and the Chairman of the Board of Education.
What made the award all the more meaningful for the district was that Ms. Knight, is a 1995 graduate of Hartford Public High School, who earned her education degree while on a full basketball scholarship at Central Connecticut State University. She was also a finalist for Hartford Teacher of the Year in 2009.
“Considering our district’s reform strategy of preparing all students for college and career success, Tamika Knight is an outstanding role model for teachers and students,” said Superintendent Kishimoto. “She embodies the best that the city has to offer.”
Known as the “Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken Educator Awards were established in 1985 by the Milken Family Foundation to honor a teacher or administrator in each state who is furthering excellence in education. Each award comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.
Unlike other teacher awards, the Milken program has no formal nomination or application process. Each state’s department of education appoints an independent committee to quietly recommend candidates according to strict criteria established by the Milken Family Foundation, which makes the final selection.
Award winners must essentially be exceptional educational talents with exemplary accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession.
“Ms. Knight’s impact on students and her academic prowess is unmatched,” said Principal Brady. “During her first year at the school, she boasted the highest overall scores and, since then, has maintained her academic excellence within the classroom.”
Born in Savannah, Ga., Ms. Knight is the oldest of six children who were raised by their grandparents on Homestead Avenue in Hartford. She attended Milner Elementary School and Quirk Middle School. While she was a senior at Hartford Public High School, the 17-year-old Ms. Knight was featured as “Student of the Week” in the Hartford Courant newspaper, where she declared her intention to return to Hartford to teach.
In a 2009 essay that led to her nomination as Hartford Teacher of the Year, Ms. Knight disclosed that she makes it a practice to have her students complete a survey at the beginning of the school year that reveals their patterns of behavior.
“Once I get to know the students, I plan my lessons according to their personalities and learning styles in order to help them achieve success,” she wrote. “The greatest reward I find in teaching is having a positive influence on struggling students. Nothing gives me more joy than watching a student grow academically and/or socially.”
Ms. Knight with previous Milken Educator Award winners, and with Mayor Segarra, Dr. Jane Foley of the Milken Family Foundation, Superintendent Kishimoto, and Stephan Pryor, Commissioner of Education.
Among those who attended today’s event were several previous winners of the Milken Educator Award from Connecticut, including Deveria Berry, a former teacher at Martin Luther King Elementary School, who won the award in 1995. The only other Hartford winner was Dr. Delia I. Bello, a former principal of the Maria Sanchez Elementary School, who won the award in 2002.

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