Top teacher honored

Published: February 21, 2007 | 5620th good news item since 2003

Palm Vista Elementary School third-grade teacher Jennifer Smith was taken completely by surprise on Tuesday, Feb. 13 when she became one of three California teachers awarded the $25,000 Milken National Educator Award for 2006.

Smith’s award was presented during a morning assembly held at the school on Baseline Road.

Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler kept those in attendance, including several school board members and representatives of the city of Twentynine Palms and the Twentynine Palms Chamber of Commerce, in suspense until he named Smith as winner of the award.

With help from some of the assembled students, he dropped hints that the surprise he had to reveal was about excellence and the teachers who help their students achieve excellence.

“The teachers have the hardest job in America,” Sandler told those in attendance, noting that the Mil-ken Family Foundation, recognizing the importance of the work teachers do, created the national educator award 20 years ago.

He explained that, at most, 100 awards are given out each year. This year, he said, just three California teachers, including Smith, were honored.

“You can’t apply for this award. We find you. That’s how special this award is,” he said.

Later, Sandler explained that the foundation works with state departments of education, which submit names of possible award-winning teachers to the foundation.

Selection, he said, is based on excellence in the classroom, student achievement, accomplishments outside the classroom and the teachers’ inspiring personality.

Smith, Sandler said, has been a leader at Palm Vista Elementary School, helping at-risk students and acting as a mentor to other teachers.

“Her other staff looks to her,” he said. “She’s a great leader.”

According to information provided by the foundation, Smith’s students share literature through book clubs read-alouds and writing stations.

Smith also generates excitement about books by acting out characters as she reads to her students.

Smith’s students, foundation officials said, have consistently scored in the top percentile of the district on asses-sments, with most scoring proficient or basic.

Between her teaching and her activities on several school committees, Sandler said, Smith has gone “above and beyond,” for her students and for her school.

“She’s a good representative of the profession,” he said.


“It feels really good,” Smith told those in attendance of her work as a teacher.

“We are at ground zero for these kids.”

“I didn’t see it coming,” Smith said after the awards presentation was over.

“Setting the bar and expecting my students to meet it,” she said when asked what she thought earned her the award. “I tried my hardest to help them to understand that they could.”

Asked what she planned to do with the money, Smith hesitated and said she would have to wait until she got the mon-ey, which will happen during an awards ceremony in Los Angeles in the spring.

“I probably will go shopping,” she joked. “My husband wants a winch for his Jeep. I guess I can’t say we don’t have the money for it now.”

Published in Teachers
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