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NEWS RELEASES 2000-01 :: OCTOBER 4, 2000


It's Tuesday, Oct. 3, and Cheryl Smith, a third grade teacher at Elizabethtown Primary School (Bladen County Schools); Maria Petrea, principal of Collinswood Elementary School (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools); and Patsy Higdon, principal of Weaverville Primary School (Buncombe County Schools), reported to work as they do each day. They may think it's business as usual, but it's not. In fact, they are each about to receive the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award and, as a result, become $25,000 richer.

In a series of surprise notifications that were made today throughout North Carolina by State Superintendent Mike Ward, Smith, Petrea, and Higdon learned that they are among the 145 newest recipients of the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award. This award carries with it an unrestricted financial award of $25,000 and membership in a network of more than 1,600 other distinguished past Milken Educator Award recipients from around the nation. A fourth educator from Cumberland County Schools will be notified of their award at a later date.

State Superintendent Mike Ward said that he was delighted to have the opportunity, through the Milken Family Foundation, to recognize such outstanding educators. "Cheryl Smith, Maria Petrea and Patsy Higdon represent the best in teaching and educational leadership in North Carolina. This is our seventh year of recognizing excellence in education through the Milken Family Foundation, and I'm proud to acknowledge the vision and hard work they each bring to the profession," he said.

Recipients of the award are selected by an independent blue-ribbon committee appointed by each state's department of education. Predetermined criteria for the award include expert pedagogy, distinguished achievement in developing innovative curricula, programs and/or teaching methods, outstanding ability to instill sound values in students, and commitment to professional development and excellence among others.

Smith was chosen for the award because of her talent, energy, and ability to enable her students to become self-directed learners. A National Board Certified Teacher and a local teacher of the year, Smith is highly respected by her colleagues at Elizabethtown Primary and serves as one of the school system's Quality Champions, providing workshops for teachers in the summer. She spends her summers studying and learning about new things she can do with her students, which is one reason her classroom is never stagnant. Smith also is credited with establishing a local chapter of the International Reading Association.

Petrea was selected for the award because of her accomplishment in developing a nationally recognized dual language magnet program at Collinswood Elementary in which native Spanish speakers blend with English speakers. The outcome has been children who are exceptionally proficient in two languages. In addition, students in the conventional program also have shown considerable gains on the ABCs of Public Education accountability program. As a result of her efforts, Collinswood Elementary received the 1999 Magnet Schools of Merit Award. Petrea is well-respected in Charlotte's Latino community and has served as a contact for educational issues beyond her school.

Higdon was chosen for the award because she is a motivator, a mover and a shaker. Her leadership style enables teachers, parents, and community members to work together for the benefit of the total child. She implemented the SMILES (Stimulating Mixtures of Integrated Learning Experience) phonemic awareness program in all K-1 classes and anti-bullying workshops in K-2 classes. She developed a school-wide writing curriculum and the Faithful Friends Mentoring Program and helped develop a system-wide K-2 Math Assessment. She has served as a consultant and writer for Math Strategies for Kindergarten and fourth grade and has won the NC Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching. She's even found time to present at local, regional and state conferences.

They will join 142 other educators in 42 states as the latest recipients of this prestigious award, which was established to provide public and financial recognition to teachers, principals and other education professionals who are advancing excellence in education. In addition to the financial award and educational networking opportunities, recipients are provided with a variety of professional resources to help them cultivate and expand innovative programs in their classrooms, schools, and districts. They also will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles in June 2001 for the annual Milken Family Foundation National Education Conference.

"The goal of the Awards Program is to recognize and reward the nation's outstanding educators for their excellent work," said Foundation President Lowell Milken. "By doing so, we hope to encourage talented young people to pursue education as a career and to retain and motivate those already in the classroom, particularly as the nation continues to face an alarming shortage of teachers."

The Milken Family Foundation was established in 1982. The Milken Educator Awards program was begun in 1985, with the first awards given out in 1987. The award alternates each year between elementary and secondary educators. Typically, each state selects four recipients. To date, 30 North Carolina educators have received this award, sharing a total of $750,000. Nationally, $41.2 million has been awarded since the program's inception.

To receive additional information on the Milken Educator Awards, the National Education Conference, or other Milken Family Foundation programs, call 310.998.2800 or visit the Milken Family Foundation web site, For information about the awards presented in North Carolina, contact Cecil Banks, Teacher Education, DPI, 919.807.3375.

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.