Knoxville teacher one of two in Tennessee to win $25,000 Milken Educator Award

On the morning of the AP Government exam, Paula Franklin of West High School in Knoxville can be found handing out breakfast and personalized notes of encouragement to her students. On Thursday, Franklin received a giant boost of confidence of her own in the form of a Milken Educator Award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize, according to a press release.

Milken Family Foundation chairman and co-founder Lowell Milken and Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen surprised Franklin with the honor in front of a gymnasium packed with her peers, students and dignitaries.

Franklin is among up to 45 honorees who will receive this national recognition for 2017-18, according to the release. She was one of two teachers in Tennessee to receive the award Thursday. The other is Millington Central High School English teacher Katherine Watkins.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” have been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years, the release said. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but also to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America’s next generation of leaders.

“When teachers prepare their students to become self-reliant adults, it makes all the difference in their lives,” Milken said in the release. “I was fortunate to have public school teachers who encouraged me to reflect on and affirm my role in American democracy. Paula Franklin is that type of educator. She teaches her students to think critically and develop their focus for college, career and life. Congratulations to Paula on this award and for being truly deserving of the name, ‘teacher.’ ”

Eighty-two percent of Franklin’s students pass the AP Government exam with an average score of 3.59, which far exceeds the national average of 50 percent and a 2.65 score. What’s more, enrollment in her challenging course has doubled since she took over the class, the release said.

Franklin sets high expectations and prompts her students to learn in their own way, delivering the necessary preparation tools that propel them to succeed, the Milken Family Foundation said. She incorporates instructional practices such as simulations, cooperative learning projects and writing assignments that develop a historical basis as well as critical analysis of American democracy. She also demands her students develop action plans and goals for the future that will direct their college and career focus.

Excited students crowd around government teacher Paula Franklin and her oversized $25,000 Milken Educator Award check. Beyond academics, Franklin is visible around campus, supporting students’ extracurricular activities, especially as the prom adviser and cheerleading coach.

(Photo: Milken Family Foundation)

Franklin has a knack for teaching others how to teach well, the foundation said. She leads professional development sessions for government teachers throughout Knox County and mentors new teachers. Beyond academics, Franklin is visible around campus, supporting students’ extracurricular activities, especially as the prom adviser and cheerleading coach.

Franklin is a graduate of the University of Tennessee Knoxville. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science with minors in history and secondary education in 2010, and a Master of Science in teacher education (secondary teaching) in 2011.

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish, the release said. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Franklin’s honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

Also, 2017-18 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., on March 20-23. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about the importance of maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation, the release said.

Past recipients have used their awards to fund their children’s education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

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