During a school-wide assembly to commend Thurgood Marshall Academy’s distinction as a top performing “Reward School,” Kena Allison, a physics teacher and instructional specialist, was astonished to learn that she had received a completely unexpected individual reward as a top educator. In front of 400 cheering students, colleagues and dignitaries, Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Mike Milken and acting DC State Superintendent of Education Jesús Aguirre presented Allison with a Milken Educator Award. In a moment’s time, this outstanding educator experienced the fanfare typically reserved for all-star athletes and award-winning entertainers.
Hailed by Teacher Magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” what separates this Award from others is that the recipients have no idea that they will be honored. This recognition is not a lifetime achievement award. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Encompassed in the recognition is the responsibility for those honored to stretch their professional practices and leadership to even higher levels.
Lending their congratulations were DC Deputy Mayor of Education Abigail Smith, who presented a congratulatory letter from Mayor Vincent C. Gray; D.C. Public Charter School Board Member Don Soifer; DC Councilmember and Chairman of the Education Committee David A. Catania; and DC State Board of Education Members Mary Lord (At-Large), Vice President Mark Jones (Ward 5), Monica Warren-Jones (Ward 6), and Karen Williams (Ward 7).
Described by a colleague as “irreplaceable,” Kena Allison’s pursuit to help others actually started with medical school. Luckily for her students, she realized she wanted to help shape the future by becoming a teacher instead, carrying her love of science over into the classroom where she shares it with her students.
“I love way I do, I love our kids, and I love this community,” said Allison, flanked by cameras from every local television station. “Our students come to school every day ready to work because we set the standards and they know there’s no compromise. Here at the Thurgood Marshall Academy, we do what we say we’re going to do.”
Always the consummate innovator, Allison encourages her 12th grade students to learn Albert Einstein’s subject of choice--physics--in creative ways. Inside the classroom, students originate physics raps to learn equations, or play Red Light, Green Light to demonstrate Newton’s Laws of Motion. Outside the classroom, she plans field trips for students to study the aerodynamics of roller coasters and also created a “Physics of Sports” project, where students pick their favorite sports like golf or gymnastics and relate back to her how the laws of physics apply to their respective sports.
Thurgood Marshall Academy students enter the public charter school in the 9th grade, many of them three to four years behind, so Allison developed a system to get freshmen on the right track from the start. By the time they reach her senior physics class, these teens are prepped for her introduction to the rigors of college. One hundred percent of Thurgood Marshall Academy students are accepted to college.
In addition to being an exceptional classroom teacher, Allison is science department chair, collaborating with colleagues to study Next Generation Science Standards and leading professional development. For her tireless efforts, she received a Harvard Fellowship for Enhancing Teacher Effectiveness in High Schools.
“Kena Allison could have been a skilled doctor, but instead chose to become a dedicated school teacher,” added Acting State Superintendent Aguirre. “Over the years, she has diagnosed and repaired systemic school challenges, encouraged her students’ dreams, and contributed to improving the academic, emotional, and physical health of not just her students but by extension her entire school community.”
Allison’s Milken Educator Awards story doesn’t end with her surprise notification. New recipients are invited to join the Milken Educator Network, a group of distinguished educators coast-to-coast whose expertise serves as a valuable resource to fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others shaping the future of education. “Milken Educators point to the Award as a pivotal professional milestone,” said Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and a 1994 Milken Educator recipient from Indiana.
Since first presented to a dozen California teachers, the program has grown to become the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program having honored nearly 2,600 K-12 teachers, principals and specialists. More than $136 million in funding, including over $64 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers. From local to state to national and even international levels, the exponential impact of Milken Educators strengthens American K-12 education.
Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the Awards are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to the Foundation.
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