Kristina Carssow of Connally High School in Austin Surprised With $25,000 National Milken Educator Award

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A seemingly routine schoolwide assembly at Connally High in the Pflugerville Independent School District turned into the surprise of a lifetime when the Milken Family Foundation honored—and stunned—master teacher Kristina Carssow with a Milken Educator Award.

With research confirming that an effective teacher is the single most important school-related factor in raising student achievement, it is clear to see the critical role that outstanding teachers play in shaping our country.

A seemingly routine schoolwide assembly at Connally High in the Pflugerville Independent School District turned into the surprise of a lifetime when the Milken Family Foundation honored—and stunned—master teacher Kristina Carssow with a Milken Educator Award. Presented by Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott and Pflugerville Independent School District Superintendent Charles Dupre, the Award comes with a no-strings-attached cash prize of $25,000. Texas Representative Mark Strama also joined in the fanfare.

This school year marks the Milken Family Foundation’s 25th anniversary recognizing and rewarding America’s top teachers with what Teacher Magazine has deemed the “Oscars of Teaching.” The Awards program was created to recognize the importance of outstanding educators and encourage talented young people to enter the teaching profession. Unlike most teaching awards, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Each year exceptional teachers, principals and specialists—recommended without their knowledge by a blue-ribbon panel appointed by each state’s department of education—are surprised with the news of their Awards.

“Our public education system is at the heart of America’s promise and is essential in safeguarding the American dream for future generations. With research confirming that an effective teacher is the single most important school-related factor in raising student achievement, it is clear to see the critical role that outstanding teachers play in shaping our country,” said Lowell Milken. “We created the Milken Educator Awards to proclaim in a very public way that greatness in education must be recognized and rewarded. As the program’s motto extols, ‘the future belongs to the educated.’ Through her integral role on Connally High School’s leadership team, Kristina Carssow has helped to create a culture of collaboration and high expectations for teachers and students alike to thrive. She is an inspiration and example for communities, policymakers, and students who may be inspired to enter the profession, and for all of our nation’s K-12 educators.”

Kristina Carssow has grown from a respected content-area expert into a widely sought-after authority on all aspects of instruction. For three years prior to her campus position as master teacher for TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, Carssow served as a classroom teacher as well as the lead teacher of Connally’s Freshman Cornerstone Academy. During that time, she oversaw the development of an interdisciplinary unit, “Highway Across Africa,” which included five content areas and involved student presentations to a panel of judges from the school and community.

In her TAP leadership role, Carssow mentors teachers regularly through weekly TAP “cluster group” professional development meetings, lesson modeling, field-testing strategies with groups of students, classroom observations and pre- and post-conferences. She also works with fellow TAP school leadership team members, including the principal, to identify school goals and align strategies to meet specific student needs. Carssow has also established and developed TAP policies for ninth- and tenth-grade teachers relating to grading, classroom management and student relationships.

Since Carssow assumed the master teacher position, Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) pass rates have increased 14 percent and scores for African-American students and those eligible for free and reduced-price lunch have leapt 20 percent. As a result of the collaborative ninth-grade teaching she advocates, the passing rate for ninth-graders in world geography moved from 88 percent in 2008 to 92 percent in 2009.

Carssow helped write the Pflugerville Independent School District curriculum guide (“bundles”) and revises it annually. She also created campus-level committees and initiated a student-centric building-wide improvement plan. Memberships include the District Curriculum Alignment Team, District Pre-AP Vertical Alignment Team and the Principal’s Project Advisory Committee.

The Awards story doesn’t end with the surprise notification. New recipients are invited to join the Milken Educator Network, a group of distinguished educators whose expertise serves as a valuable resource to fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others shaping the future of education.

Since first presented to a dozen California teachers, the Milken Educator Awards program has grown to become the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program having honored more than 2,500 teachers, principals and specialists with over $63 million in individual, unrestricted $25,000 awards. More than $135 million has been devoted to the overall program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout the recipients’ careers in education. The exponential impact of the more than 2,500 outstanding teachers has helped to reform American K-12 education. The Milken Awards alternates yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Each participating state department of education appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to review candidates that are sourced through a confidential selection process and recommend candidates to the Foundation.

Award Criteria:

Candidates for the Milken Educator Awards are selected on the basis of the following criteria:

  •     Exceptional educational talent as evidenced by effective instructional practices and student learning results in the classroom and school;
  •     Exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession;
  •     Individuals whose contributions to education are largely unheralded yet worthy of the spotlight;
  •     Early- to mid-career educators who offer strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership; and
  •     Engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues and the community.

For photos, please call Jana Rausch at (310) 435-9259 or email her at jrausch(at)mff(dot)org

For more information, visit http://www.mff.org or call (310) 570-4775. You can follow the Foundation at http://www.twitter.com/milken, http://www.youtube.com/milkenaward and http://www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawards, and view the Milken Educator Awards kick-off video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCmGOvmNtV8.
An education reformer for three decades, Lowell Milken created the Milken Educator Awards to recognize exemplary teachers and established TAP™: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement to generate more talented teachers, http://www.tapsystem.org. Lowell Milken recently provided the founding gift for the Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law. For more information about Lowell visit http://www.lowellmilken.com.

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Jana Rausch
Milken Family Foundation
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