District Teacher Earns $25,000 Award

Nov. 20, 2012 ~ Third-grade teacher Michael Berndt was named a Milken National Educator (MNE) today by the Milken Family Foundation in a surprise ceremony at Prairie Center Elementary School. As a Milken National Educator, Berndt will receive an unrestricted cash award of $25,000.

Milken Family Foundation Board Member Tom Boysen was joined by Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker, Deputy Commissioner Dale M. Dennis and Superintendent Marlin Berry at the school where Berndt teaches. Berndt was unaware he was being considered for the award until DeBacker revealed the name of the 2012 Milken National Educator to the applause and cheers of fellow teachers, administrators and students.

Berndt is one of up to 40 educators around the country being recognized this year with the MNE distinction. Candidates for the award are early- to mid-career educators who have shown evidence of exceptional educational talent through effective instructional practices and student learning results and who have shown exemplary educational accomplishments outside of the classroom.

"Our public education system is at the heart of America's promise and is essential in safeguarding the American dream for future generations," said Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation. "With research confirming that effective teachers represent the single most important school-related factor in raising student achievement, it is important to honor them, learn from them, and inspire more capable people to join the profession. As the program's motto extols, the future belongs to the educated."

Berndt has been teaching in Kansas for the past 10 years. He started his teaching career in the Manhattan-Ogden School District, teaching fourth grade and later serving as the Technology Rich Classroom facilitator. For the past three years he has been teaching third grade at Prairie Center Elementary School in the Olathe School District. Berndt's principal, Natalie Browning, said Berndt serves as a role model for students, colleagues, parents and the community.

"Mr. Berndt doesn't just expect excellence from his students, he expects it from himself," she said. "What I feel he does best is incorporating real-life scenarios and using background knowledge to ensure his students are making connections with their learning to real-life situations."

Debra Hannah, an instructional resource teacher for the Olathe School District, describes Berndt as "a rare gem of a teacher."

"It was apparent from my first meeting with Mike that he was a rare and extremely gifted educator," Hannah said. "His intellect and talents suit him perfectly in the classroom, allowing him to motivate students and make routine lessons come alive as he engages students in a relevant and rigorous format."

Berndt joins 59 other Kansas educators who have received the MNE award since Kansas began participating in the program in 1992.

"It is always an honor to recognize outstanding educators like Michael Berndt," DeBacker said. "In Kansas, we are blessed to have many educators who go above and beyond to ensure their students will be successful. I am grateful to the Milken Family Foundation for understanding the contributions made by educators in our nation and for providing us the opportunity to recognize those individuals in a very significant way."

The Milken Educator Awards have grown to become the nation's largest teacher recognition program. Since its inception in 1987, the Milken Educator Awards have recognized more than 2,500 educators, providing more than $63 million in awards. The up to 40 educators who will become MNE recipients in 2012 will join the Milken Educator Network, a rich resource of educators and other influential leaders accessible to fellow teachers, legislators, school boards, and others who are shaping the future of education. The award program is one of several programs sponsored by the Milken Family Foundation in the areas of education and medicine.

Prairie Center Elementary teacher Michael Berndt's students congratulated him on being named a Milken National Educator. Michael Berndt and his class

Michael Berndt spoke to the all-school assembly after it was announced that he is a 2012 Milken National Educator Award recipient.

Photos by Ann Kohn

Assembly photo