Language Translation
  Close Menu

Milken Educator Awards

Goals and Criteria

  • Milken Educator AwardsThe Milken Educator Awards were established with these goals:
  • To honor and reward outstanding K-12 educators for the quality of their teaching, their professional leadership, their engagement with families and the community, and their potential for even greater contribution to the healthy development of children.
  • To focus public attention on the importance of excellent educators.
  • To encourage able, caring and creative people to choose the challenge, service and adventure of teaching as a career and to rally support for dramatic improvements in the motivation and achievement of students.
  • To advance education technology as a means to improve the performance of students, enhance the effectiveness of educators and strengthen the engagements of parents and the community.
  • To create national and state networks of Milken Educators that: foster the active professional development and career enhancement of Milken Educators and other professionals, encourage Milken Educators to help shape the educational policies that influence their classrooms and schools, connect Milken Educators with the educational improvement efforts of state education agencies, universities, corporate partners and other allies.
  • To engage corporate and foundation partners in support of Milken Educators and in advocacy of policies that advance education.

Criteria established in Indiana call for these qualities in an educator:

  • Innovation and Management: Has created new programs or revitalized existing programs, gets things done, rises above the ordinary.
  • Communications: Uses speaking skills to inspire and influence others, and relates current literature to teaching and content.
  • Motivation: Induces active student involvement, creates a learning environment, demonstrates exceptional ability to challenge students to achieve their highest potential.
  • Leadership: Is involved in development and implementation of inservice training programs for teachers and other educational personnel.

Visit the National Milken Educator Awards page for more information.

Previous Award Winners

  • Coming Soon

  • Coming Soon

  • Coming Soon

  • 2017 Award Recipient Kristen Lents

    At the time of the Award, Kristen Sargent was:

    Harris Academy
    Brownsburg, IN

    Subject(s) taught: Mathematics
    Grade(s): 9, 10, 11, 12

    Biographical Information

    Pictures of teenagers and notes from former students paper the walls of Kristen Sargent’s classroom at Harris Academy in Brownsburg, Indiana. Sargent teaches math at a non-traditional high school, which serves students in Brownsburg and nearby Avon who face academic and life challenges, including teen parents, students with health issues, those who have to work to support themselves, and reluctant learners with credit deficits. Sargent is known for her ability to connect with and motivate math-phobic students who traditionally do not like school. She holds them to the highest standards despite the reality that many will not go on to college and dives deep into data to create individualized learning plans for each student in her class. Sargent's students deliver for her: 98% of her students earned their math credits last year, and 57% who retook the Algebra I end-of-course assessment passed, exceeding the school’s target and showing a 39-point mean improvement.

    Sargent tirelessly pursues strategies and techniques designed to engage her students and make math instruction more relevant to their world outside school. When Harris Academy adopted project-based learning, Sargent designed a project in which students used Excel spreadsheets and manual calculations to compare cell phone plans, using Algebra I standards like equations and graphing. Sargent works with students not just to hone their algebra skills but to build their confidence, laying a foundation that will help them succeed in quantitative courses as they further their studies. She has taken the lead in the school’s advisory program, designing a curriculum for goal-setting and career planning; students know she believes in them, their abilities, and their potential for a great future.

    Regarded as a leader by her peers, Sargent mentors new teachers and leads Harris Academy’s remediation program and math professional learning community. She is involved in professional development both at Harris Academy and at Brownsburg High School (BHS). Sargent secured a grant to obtain licenses for IXL Math, an online skill-building tool that has helped her target and individualize instruction for her students; BHS has now incorporated the program into its math curriculum as well.

    Sargent earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics education from Oakland City University in 2009.

    Press release: Subtracting students' math phobias adds up to a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for teacher Kristen Lents

  • 2016 Award Recipient Aimee Schade & Traci Druschke

    At the time of the Award, Aimee Schade was:

    TAP Master Teacher
    West Goshen Elementary
    Goshen, IN

    Grade(s): K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

    Biographical Information

    When Aimee Schade steps into a classroom to teach a lesson at West Goshen Elementary, she often starts by talking about soccer. The sport, a West Goshen favorite, helps her connect quickly and build bridges with students of all ages—an important skill when guest-teaching in classrooms other teachers manage on a day-to-day basis. Schade is respected for her ability to take charge of every class she enters, no matter the grade level or subject.

    Schade, a TAP master teacher at the diverse, high-poverty K-5 school, is responsible for ensuring the learning of both students and teachers. All schools in the district implement TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, a structure that supports opportunities for career advancement, professional growth, instructionally-focused accountability and competitive compensation for educators.

    As a TAP master teacher, Schade shares responsibilities with administrators and guides instructional best practices for the faculty. She digs into both student and teacher assessment data to figure out what students are learning, what they aren't, and how to address areas of need.

    Schade helped lead West Goshen to gains in student achievement. Schoolwide, West Goshen earned the highest possible value-added growth score for 2014-15, a year when Indiana implemented more rigorous college and career readiness standards and statewide assessments.

    Schade facilitates weekly professional development, develops and implements plans for strengthening curriculum and assessment, and conducts classroom evaluations aimed at supporting all educators to increase their teaching proficiency. She is known for her willingness to experiment to figure out what works, field testing every strategy and doing her own action research before introducing new instructional techniques to colleagues. Schade taught first, second and fourth grades and served as a TAP mentor teacher before taking on the master teacher role in 2013. She has completed primary years International Baccalaureate training in anticipation of West Goshen Elementary's transition to an IB curriculum.

    Known for her leadership skills, work ethic and knowledge of instructional strategy, Schade often serves as a model among the district's TAP master teachers. She is particularly adept at helping teachers experience learning through their students' eyes and developing higher-order thinking skills crucial for success in a global economy.

    Schade earned a bachelor's degree in education 2001 from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree in elementary education in 2011 from Indiana Wesleyan University.

    Press release: Goshen Master Teacher Becomes First in District to Receive Milken Educator Award and $25,000 Cash Prize

    At the time of the Award, Traci Druschke was:

    Oak Hill Elementary School
    Evansville, IN

    Subject(s) taught: General Elementary
    Grade(s): 3

    Biographical Information

    Traci Druschke pushes her third-grade students to dream big. Her classroom at Oak Hill Elementary School in Evansville is a hive of activity where students know their teacher expects 100% participation. Druschke moderates constant interaction and conversation among students. She embodies Whole Brain Teaching, an instructional system that helps students take ownership of their learning. Druschke teaches students how to structure productive questions and uses mnemonics and other memory models to help them absorb material. Students self-monitor their learning in "leadership notebooks," instruct each other in small "reciprocal teaching" groups, and lead morning meetings. Druschke holds high expectations, and her students rise to meet them.

    Known as an expert in collecting data and using it to drive student growth, Druschke constantly assesses her students to make sure they have mastered the standards; if not, she works with them in small groups until they succeed. She helps each student set and conquer individualized learning goals. The school's third-graders perform above state averages in both math and English Language Arts; on the 2016 Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination (IREAD) assessments, virtually all of Druschke's students scored above average proficiency.

    Druschke serves on Oak Hill's leadership team and helps guide the third-grade Professional Learning Community (PLC). She also develops and implements schoolwide professional development and mentors new teachers. Druschke has invited teachers and administrators from the school, the district and beyond to observe her instructional practices; her classroom is described as an "invigorating environment," rich with positive energy.

    Before joining the Oak Hill team in 2014, Druschke taught for seven years at a high-poverty school in the Evansville Vanderburgh School Coporation (EVSC). While there, she was chosen for the EVSC Learning Leadership Cadre, a select program designed to bring new, innovative teaching strategies to district schools. Druschke researched novel instructional techniques, participated in special professional development, and spent a week at Brown University collaborating with peers. She presented the results of her research, "Closing the Gender Gap Through Literacy," at the Indiana Computer Educators Conference and led professional development on the topic for the district.

    Druschke earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education in 2003 and a minor in English as a Second Language (ESL) in 2006 from the University of Southern Indiana. She received a Master of Education in 2009 from Indiana Wesleyan University.

  • 2015 Award Recipient Melody Coryell

    At the time of the Award, Melody Coryell was:

    Shortridge High School
    Indianapolis, IN
    Subject(s) taught: English/Language Arts

    Biographical Information

    Melody Coryell, Director of Academies and Pathways for Indianapolis Public Schools, was inspired to pursue her path at a young age. In second grade, she was accepted into an educational program in Kokomo, Indiana, that demonstrated to Coryell how education can open a young person’s eyes to the world and, in the process, change lives.

    Coryell arrived to Shortridge High in July 2014 after more than a decade as the IB coordinator and an English teacher at Lawrence North High School in Lawrence Township. There, she instituted recruitment strategies and modified program implementation to provide access to IB programs for all students.

    Coryell hones her skills as Director of Academies and Pathways for Indianapolis Public schools, working to provide all students access to strong programs that lead to enrollment, employment, or enlistment.

    Coryell received dual bachelor’s degrees in English and history from Ball State University in 2001; a teaching degree at Indiana Wesleyan University in 2013; and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Butler University in 2015.

  • 2014 Award Recipient Kelly Wilber & Laurie Davies

    At the time of the Award, Kelly Wilber was:

    TAP Mentor Teacher
    Southport Elementary School
    Indianapolis, IN

    Subject(s) taught: General Elementary
    Grade(s): 5

    Biographical Information

    For Kelly Wilber, education is more than a profession, it’s a passion. At Southport Elementary, a school that embeds TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement as the structure for growth, Wilber is both a fifth-grade classroom teacher and a TAP mentor teacher. And whether educating and inspiring children or adults, Wilber makes a profound impact.

    In her role since 2011 as a TAP mentor, Wilber coaches colleagues at every grade level, in the process contributing to achievement growth schoolwide. But it’s not just the Southport Elementary campus that benefits. Visitors from over 50 schools have observed the animated delivery of best practices as modeled in Wilber’s classroom. One visiting principal was so impressed by the students’ engagement that he assumed it was a gifted and talented class. In reality, the highly diverse students include those for whom English is a second language or who have significant other challenges.

    At the individual level, Wilber analyzes each student’s data and custom tailors instruction to match the needs and realize potential. Highly reflective in daily practice, she poses questions and requests student feedback. Her impact goes beyond her consummate technique as students feel their teacher’s confidence in them and don’t want to disappoint her. She builds strong relationships while holding students accountable for their performance.

    Not only does Wilber contribute to the growth and learning of others, but she also has a reputation as a lifelong learner herself. She partners with Purdue University on Literacy Nights and also earned her administrator’s license. At the district level, Wilber serves on the High Ability team, volunteers for the district Title I Science Night, organizes community fundraisers, and has been instrumental in helping to plan the district’s summer school program, investing her own time in the effort. It is little wonder that Wilber has been referred to as the teacher every parent would want for their child and the teacher every educator would want for a colleague.

    At the time of the Award, Laurie Davies was:

    Pine Tree Elementary School
    Avon, IN

    Subject(s) taught: General Elementary
    Grade(s): 4

    Biographical Information

    When a teacher gives her all, her students have a greater opportunity to excel. Laurie Davies, a fourth-grade teacher at Pine Tree Elementary, is an example of how a teacher’s dedication can impact students and her school community.

    Davies is affectionately known at her school as “The Data Queen” for her effective and consistent use of student data to improve instruction. As a result, in her mixed 1st/2nd grade classroom last year, 75-82% of her students achieve targets on reading and math assessments, and Davies’ students annually perform better than their peers on early grade evaluations. Davies piloted a Transactional Reading Strategies program to provide fundamental literacy strategies in the first 21 days of school, and its success resulted in her sharing the program with other teachers. Her ability to evaluate and meet the educational and developmental needs of all her students in a multi-grade classroom is exceptional.

    One of several grants that Davies has been awarded was “Making History Alive.” An actor visited the classroom for a unique multi-disciplinary experience; then students created their own performances of “Historical Hoosiers of Note.” This creativity makes learning come alive for students in the essential primary grades and helps to prepare them for future success.

    Davies regularly extends herself beyond the curriculum to meet students’ needs and create the best possible environment for learning. She co-developed Operation Family First, a parent program that offers parent classes and supports family life and student achievement. She chaperones annual trips to Space Camp and is active in her school’s Parent Teacher Organization and at Camp Give Back for at-risk students. Her balanced, calm demeanor allows her to build personal connections with students and parents and makes her a popular leader among her colleagues.

    On her campus and in her district, Davies routinely offers professional development for teaching staff. She is always learning, and is always willing to share her knowledge and experience with others, making her a model of teaching excellence in action.

  • 2013 Award Recipient Ginger Giessler

    At the time of the Award, Ginger Giessler was:

    New Tech Academy @ Wayne High School
    Fort Wayne, IN

    Subject(s) taught: English/Language Arts

    Biographical Information

    Language arts teacher Ginger Giessler pushes boundaries at New Tech Academy @ Wayne High School, a diverse urban school in Fort Wayne, Ind. An influential risk taker who has made an impact through engaging students beyond the standard academic ideals of pass/fail, Giessler has cleared the way for many of New Tech's most innovative academic programs.

    As a national New Tech Certified Teacher with an expertise in project-based learning, she mentors colleagues and engages students in exploring real-world challenges and problems. In the process, Giessler integrates language arts with New Tech’s STEM focus and has proven time and again that achievement belongs to students who feel ownership for their education. Students respect her writing critiques and expectations of excellence. Her students’ literacy scores are 25% above the district average and student pass rates are at the school’s highest levels with 75-80%. In the national “Letters about Literature” essay competition sponsored by the Indiana Center for the Book, 16 of Giessler’s students have been semifinalists, including the 2012 national champion.

    Giessler models acceptance of all students regardless of their differences and establishes classroom protocols that create an environment conducive to collaboration. When New Tech’s school culture was not developing in as positive a direction as hoped, she came up with an idea to present students with keys to represent core school values. During monthly ceremonies, each of seven students would select another seven students to pass on their keys – and values – with events captured on video. As a result of the "Key Program," school spirit was visibly lifted.

    Giessler’s contributions extend well beyond the high school campus. While continuing as a classroom teacher at New Tech, Geissler now devotes part of her time to coaching teachers at the emerging New Tech-Towles Middle School in project-based learning, collaboration and accountability. This quintessential 21st-century educator is also in demand as a speaker at state and national levels.

  • 2012 Award Recipient Candace Ewing

    At the time of the Award, Candace (Ewing) Nortey was:

    Assistant Principal
    Snacks Crossing Elementary School
    Indianapolis, IN

    Biographical Information

    A native and former student in the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township in Indianapolis, Indiana, Candace (Ewing) Nortey now serves as the assistant principal of Snacks Crossing Elementary School. Her previous experience as an instructional coach and kindergarten teacher at the school has been a significant asset to her new role, allowing her to help lead the school as a whole while maintaining a direct impact on students. (Ewing) Nortey was instrumental in Snacks Crossing's achievement of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in Spring 2011 for the first time.

    As a classroom teacher, (Ewing) Nortey differentiated instruction and was always eager to roll up her sleeves and participate in hands-on activities right with her students. To fire up their interest in reading, she had them create a series of summer reading videos which have helped increase standardized test scores schoolwide. Ewing involves parents in nighttime Parent Universities, game nights and family reading nights. She also partners with local churches to secure tutors.

    (Ewing) Nortey's students -- many who entered kindergarten without preparation -- saw test scores grow to more than 80 percent on the Northwest Evaluation Assessment (NWEA) when the average is 65 percent. Students for first and second grades score at least 75 percent.

    (Ewing) Nortey helps teachers at all grade levels, veteran and new teachers alike. She disaggregates data throughout the building and has led the staff to employ data-based instruction building-wide. Beyond the classroom, (Ewing) Nortey is a trusted mentor at the district level. She also presented at both the Literacy and the Best Practices conferences as well as worked on a writing curriculum with the Indiana Partnership for Young Writers that had an impact statewide.

    View photos from Candace's award ceremony.

  • 2011 Award Recipient: Wilson Reyes

    At the time of the Award, Wilson Reyes was:

    Guion Creek Middle School
    Indianapolis, IN
    Subjects Taught: English Language Learner (ELL) and Spanish
    Grades: Six through eight

    Biographical Information:

    Pike Township teacher Wilson Reyes received a 2011 Milken Educator Award during a surprise assembly at Guion Creek Middle School today. Dr. Tony Bennett was on hand to participate in the ceremony as well as the presentation of an unrestricted $25,000 financial award from the Milken Foundation.

    “Excellent teachers have a transformative effect on the lives of their students,” Bennett said “Their work ethic and talent is inspirational to the children they teach and the colleagues with whom they work. Wilson Reyes is an excellent teacher, and I was proud to participate in today’s ceremony honoring his contributions to Indiana’s schools.”

    Often called the “Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken Educator Awards were created to attract, retain and motivate outstanding teachers throughout the country. Up to 40 recipients from around the nation will receive an award in 2011. Since1987, over $63 million has been awarded to more than 2,500 educators.

    “Indiana continues to partner with the Milken Foundation to honor exceptional teachers,” Bennett said. “These types of partnerships help us take every opportunity possible to support and celebrate the best of our great educators, and I commend the Milken Foundation for its ongoing efforts to celebrate these men and women working in our nation’s classrooms.”

    Reyes is an English Language Learner (ELL) and Spanish teacher at Guion Creek. He did not know he was in consideration for the award and believed he was attending a routine assembly. He joins a network of Milken educators who serve as role models for teachers across the United States.

    Metropolitan School District of Pike Township leadership was on hand to participate in the ceremony. Dr. Gary Stark, Chief Executive Officer of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, was also in attendance to formally present the award.

  • 2010 Award Recipient: Keana Parquet

    At the time of the Award, Keana Parquet was:

    Crooked Creek Elementary School
    Indianapolis, IN
    Subject(s) Taught: General Elementary
    Grade(s): 4

    Biographical Information:

    There is no aspect of academics at Crooked Creek Elementary School in Indianapolis, IN, that has not been enriched by the work of fourth-grade teacher Keana Parquet. Not only has she boosted achievement among her students, she creates positive change and new opportunities for the school as a whole.

    Parquet serves on myriad committees, including the Positive Behavior and Support Committee, School Leadership Committee and Curriculum Revision and Textbook Adoption Committee, to name a few. Additionally, as the fourth-grade Team Leader, she adapts instruction for special-needs students and those with drastically different levels of learning. She is currently heading a team of teachers and administrators to implement a primary International Baccalaureate program to give the student body more educational pathways. Parquet also serves on the school’s Global Committee, through which she hosted four Chinese teachers at Crooked Creek Elementary and, in turn, traveled to China where she visited an elementary school to learn about its education techniques and school structure.

    In the classroom, Parquet’s strong implementation of data-driven instruction has resulted in impressive gains. She involves her students in this process by creating individual folders where they collect, analyze and review data with her. Students in her class have scored considerably higher than state averages, with fourth-grade test scores on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus (ISTEP) ranging from 90-95 percent mastery in science, math and language arts. Students appreciate her impact on their lives so much that they routinely return to her classroom years later to share their accomplishments with her.

    Watch the award presentation.

  • Previous Milken Award Winners
  • 2023 Award Recipient Brittany Tinkler

    At the time of the Award, Brittany Tinkler was:

    Rosa Parks Elementary School
    Indianapolis, IN

    Grade(s): 2

    Biographical Information

    Brittany Tinkler has enhanced learning for hundreds of students at Rosa Parks Elementary in Indianapolis, both in her second grade classroom and the school at large. A former master teacher in the district, Tinkler brings her leadership and mentorship expertise to her current role. She is a strong advocate for project-based learning (PBL) and has helped lead its rollout for the school’s second and fourth graders. As a master teacher, Tinkler worked with all stakeholders to support students’ growth both academically and socially, providing one-to-one coaching, co-planning and co-teaching, and professional development. She helped other educators incorporate the kinds of effective, innovative instructional practices that she uses as a classroom teacher, immersing Perry Township Schools students in learning experiences rich with authenticity, curiosity and ownership. Tinkler planned and facilitated cluster cycles, field tested new instructional strategies, and led meetings with mentor teachers to grow the capacity of other teacher leaders in Perry Township, which partners with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET).

    Tinkler has shared her extensive experience with PBL with educators around the country through professional development, conference presentations, articles and podcasts. She co-authored a chapter in a book about math-related PBL in elementary classrooms. Tinkler has brought community partners from the local zoo, radio station, rescue mission and fire station into her classroom, introducing students to a new world of career possibilities as they explore their interests. Her students have outperformed district and expected growth in both math and ELA.

    With a contagious positive attitude that draws in students and colleagues alike, Tinkler strives to be a champion for all students. As a master teacher, she started an after-school running club and helped launch robotics and math teams. Tinkler hails from a family of educators—her grandfather was a principal in the Indianapolis area —and teaches in the same district from which both she and her husband graduated. Tinkler’s passion for teaching and learning stems from a very personal mission: to give back to the school community that helped educate her.

    Tinkler earned a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2012 from Indiana University and a master’s in curriculum and instructional leadership in 2018 from Indiana Wesleyan University.

    Press release: Perry Township Teacher Receives Surprise $25,000 Milken Educator Award, Hailed as 'Oscars of Teaching'

  • 2022 Award Recipient Angela Fowler

    At the time of the Award, Angela Fowler was:

    Grassy Creek Elementary School
    Greenwood, IN

    Subject(s) taught: Mathematics
    Grade(s): 4

    Biographical Information

    At Grassy Creek Elementary in Greenwood, Indiana, fourth graders love talking about math thanks to Angela Fowler. Her “number talks” help students understand number patterns and find different ways to solve problems. Fowler incorporates the “I do, we do, you do” strategy and breaks the class into groups based on levels of understanding, continuously reviewing data and rearranging groups accordingly. She uses a wide range of visual models to build understanding of math concepts and differentiates her practice to address each student’s needs. Fowler commands the room with her energy, engaging lessons and high expectations. And students’ fluency with math concepts soars: Last year, Fowler’s students grew from 8% mastery at the beginning of the year to 54% by the end.

    Fowler seeks out best practices, looking to improve her own instruction through webinars, podcasts and coaching. She has served as grade-level chair, sits on Grassy Creek’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team, leads the school’s math professional learning community (PLC) and has delivered professional development and workshops on how students learn mathematical concepts. Fowler mentors new teachers and is committed to helping them grow and build their skills.

    Fowler understands that relationships are key to student success and works with colleagues to meet the needs of all students, including those with individualized learning and language plans. She provides inclusion services to students with emotional disabilities, incorporating them in her classroom’s community circle time, joining them for lunch, and making sure they are included at recess. Fowler goes to great lengths to connect with families, sharing what and how their children are doing in class and strategies for supporting their learning at home. She planned a math night for families, similar to what Grassy Creek has done for reading in the past, to introduce parents to the recently adopted math curriculum.

    As the sponsor for Grassy Creek’s Girls on the Run club, Fowler is a role model for positivity, being a lifelong learner and embracing a growth mindset. She was not a runner before starting the club, but she built her own running skills alongside the 20-plus girls in the program to set the example, culminating in a 120-mile relay. Fowler also co-chairs the school’s “Riley Week” fundraiser for Riley Hospital for Children in downtown Indianapolis. Activities include a “Talls vs. Smalls” basketball game and an annual all-school rock-paper-scissors tournament. The week’s events, which last year raised more than $3,000, also include testimonials from families whose children have been treated at Riley, helping students understand the importance of philanthropy.

    Fowler earned a bachelor’s in elementary education with a concentration in mathematics in 2015 from Ball State University.

    Press release: Angela Fowler of Johnson County, Indiana, Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award

  • 2021 Award Recipient Ryan Towner

    At the time of the Award, Ryan Towner was:

    Walt Disney Elementary School
    Mishawaka, IN

    Biographical Information

    “It’s a great day to be a dolphin!” says Principal Ryan Towner as he walks through Walt Disney Elementary in Mishawaka, Indiana. Indeed, the school has a lot to celebrate. Towner has raised the bar for both student achievement and educators’ practices at the Title I school since he took the helm in 2017. He introduced tiered academic interventions with ongoing progress monitoring, new curriculum maps with common assessments, and a renewed focus on phonics instruction for the school’s younger students. Towner created a teacher leadership team that holds regular professional learning community meetings, pushing staff to make data-informed decisions in curricular planning, differentiate instruction, and push each other toward excellence through strategic collaboration across grade levels. The school has seen steady gains in student achievement, exceeding state averages in all performance domains with some of the strongest growth in the district. Walt Disney’s fourth and fifth graders have won the district spelling bee twice, a first in the school’s long history.

    Towner mentors aspiring administrators from other elementary schools in the district, sharing a comprehensive understanding of the joys, challenges and responsibilities of the principal’s role as they walk the halls discussing teacher leadership and differentiated instruction. He serves on the advisory committee for elementary education at Indiana University South Bend, his alma mater, and often visits undergraduate classrooms to share a real-life perspective on instructional practices. Towner encourages Walt Disney staff to invite pre-service teachers into their classrooms for mentoring and observation. He helped create a three-week STEM camp, chaired the district’s wellness committee and led its federal grant program for several years. Education runs in Towner’s family—his father served as a longtime administrator for a nearby district and has strongly influenced the principal’s career.

    Towner creates an environment where staff and students feel valued, motivated and appreciated. Walt Disney’s annual Culture Night, one of the best attended events in the district, celebrates the school’s linguistic and cultural diversity. Towner works closely with families and local businesses to facilitate extra programming and academic supports for students who need help. He knows all 550 Walt Disney students by name and often delights them at arrival or dismissal by playing the piano or ukulele. Towner’s students perform at high levels because they know their principal cares about them and expects great things.

    Towner earned a bachelor’s in education in 2010 and a master’s in education administration in 2016 from Indiana University South Bend.

    Press release: Mishawaka Principal Surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award