Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School principal Molly Yerkes coordinated a special assembly Thursday so the state’s top educator could emphasize the importance of choosing respect to students — or so she thought.
In reality, the assembly was a stage for the Milken Family Foundation to present Yerkes with the “Oscar of Teaching” award and a check for $25,000.
“People who know Molly and the work she’s doing here recognize she’s built a culture that supports learning,” Juneau Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said. “Student achievement is on the rise, and a lot of that speaks to Molly and her staff’s efforts to connect with individual students.”
The Milken Educator Award is given to outstanding educators across the country every year by the foundation, which identifies the winners on its own — no nominations or applications are accepted.
Yerkes is one of 40 winners for the award this year, and the only one from Alaska. Alaska joined the program in 1990, and since then more than $1.6 million has been awarded to 66 educators from Alaska.
“I’m in shock — absolutely in shock,” Yerkes said after the assembly. “I kind of coordinated this assembly, but I had no idea this was coming.”
Jane Foley, senior vice-president for the Milken Educators Award, told the students that their principal had been observed and admired for several years as the school continued to improve in categories across the board.
When Yerkes was named the winner, the students jumped to their feet in applause — after all, she knows most of them by name.
“I really try to eat lunch with them, play games with them and hold the door open and say ‘goodbye’ when they leave the school each day,” Yerkes said. “My hope is to build relationships so they can come to me when they need anything.”