Teachers, district honored for their education efforts

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Two Louisiana teachers and a school district have been honored for their contributions in educating students.

According to a news release, Jennifer Williams in Jefferson Parish and Steven Gamache in New Orleans were both given the $25,000 Milken Educator Award.

And the DeSoto Parish Schools were awarded $50,000 by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. Both the Institute and the Milken Educator Award were founded by Lowell Milken as part of efforts to improve education.

The awards were announced Wednesday.

Williams teaches sixth grade English at John Q. Adams Middle School in Metairie and Gamache teaches English at Paul Habans Charter School.

Williams was chosen for the creative ways she engages students. For example, she has “Flashlight Fridays” where the class works by flashlight.

“Outstanding teachers like Jennifer Williams ignite a passion for learning in their students and create a nurturing environment for them to thrive,” said Milken in the news release. “Jennifer’s enthusiasm, attention to data and high expectations transfer to her work outside the classroom, where she helps drive the school’s instructional program and guides and supports fellow teachers.”

Gamache has book discussions in class that resemble college literature seminars where students discuss plot development, themes and characters from books. He’s also adept at analyzing student data to make adjustments to instruction.

“Mr. Steven Gamache is an exceptional educator. We are so fortunate that he is a part of NOLA Public Schools and can serve as an example of excellence to his fellow teachers here and around the country,” said New Orleans Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis in the release.

There is no formal application process for the Milken Educator Awards. Candidates are found through a confidential selection process, and then a panel in each state reviews the candidates, the release said. The Milken Family Foundation oversees the awards and makes the final selection. The teachers can use the money however they wish. Some have used the funds to pay for their own continuing education or for their children’s education. Williams and Gamache are part of up to 40 people to receive the award across the country during the 2019-2020 school year.

Milken said the DeSoto schools had been chosen for their dedication to teachers’ professional development. The district began partnering with the Institute in 2008-2009 to improve teaching.

According to a news release, the district’s graduation rate has improved from 68% in 2008-2009 to 93% in 2018. ACT scores have also improved and the district’s overall ranking has jumped from 45 to 12, the release said.

“DeSoto Parish Schools is a model for the nation and an example of how a commitment to high-quality teaching can change the lives of students,” Milken said.

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