Shocker for local teacher: Milken award for excellence

Students and staff of Pioneer School gathered for an assembly on Monday, Dec. 12, wearing color-coordinated T-shirts and all ready with their classroom chants to greet some special guests.

But it was all a ruse.

Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, and Salam Noor, state deputy superintendent of public education, had their own agenda.

They were there to present third-grade teacher Lisa Richard with the Milken Educator Award, what Educator Magazine has called “the Oscars of Teaching.”

Richard was stunned when Foley announced that not only was she being recognized as a teacher, but was receiving $25,000 to spend however she chooses.

The gym exploded with cheers and congratulations. Richard’s students hugged, some cried and some exchanged belly bumps.

Richard is the first educator in Lebanon and the only one in Oregon this year to receive the honor.

As a stay-at-home mom, during a conversation with her husband after their children were grown, she told him she regretted that she didn’t get to pursue her love of teaching.

“He said ‘go for it,’” Richard said. “Joe supported me every step of the way.”

At the age of 32, she went to college for the first time, eventually earning her degree, and has been teaching at Pioneer for 12 years.

On the day of the assembly, Richard waited until the swirl of cameras and microphones had settled down to call her husband.

With her students still huddled around her, she got him on speaker phone and told him the good news. There was silence and then joyful tears.

In keeping with its penchant for surprises, the Milken Family Foundation does not have a process for teachers to apply or for the general public to nominate a recipient.

According to its website, candidates “are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education.”

From those selected, the Milken Family Foundation makes the final decisions.

Criteria include “exceptional educational talent as evidenced by effective instructional practices and student learning results in the classroom and school” and “exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession.”