TEA News Releases Online
Oct. 22, 2009
Two Austin-area educators win $50,000 in prizes
from Milken Family Foundation
AUSTIN – On a typical day, Maricruz Aguayo-Tabor is busy teaching world history and European history classes, mentoring teachers, working with students in the math club and running the social studies department at Austin’s Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy High School.
This morning, her schedule was interrupted by an assembly. She was surprised to learn that she was the focus of the assembly. Aguayo-Tabor was plucked from the crowd of cheering students and faculty in the gym and told that she was the recipient of the 2009 Milken Educator Award. Given by the Milken Family Foundation of California, the award carries with it a cash prize of $25,000, which Aguayo-Tabor can spend on anything she wishes.
She was the second Austin area educator to earn this ward today. Earlier this morning, Adelaida Olivares, principal of the Freshman Academy at Del Valle High School, learned that she is also a winner of the Milken award.
They are two of only 50 educators in the entire country to receive the Milken Educator Award this year.
Dubbed “the Oscars of teaching” by Teacher Magazine, the Milken Educator Awards were conceived by Lowell Milken, chairman of the Milken Family Foundation, to recognize the importance of outstanding educators and encourage talented young people to enter the teaching profession. He said, “Milken Educators represent the best of what the American teaching profession is and can be.”
The awards alternate each year between elementary and secondary educators. Since first presented in 1987 to 12 exemplary California teachers, the Milken Educator Awards program is now the nation’s largest teacher recognition program having honored more than 2,400 educators from coast to coast with over $60 million.
Texas has participated in the program since 2000 and now has 40 educators who have received this prestigious award and earned a total of $1 million in prize money.
The educators never know in advance that they are under consideration for the award.
Both Texas recipients come from humble families in the Rio Grande Valley. They bring a passion and excitement to their work, which brought them to the attention of the state of Texas and the Milken foundation.
Aguayo-Tabor sets up her world history class at the LASA magnet school like a graduate class in which students study specific topics in-depth. They research large global issues, such as world hunger and diseases. In her Advanced Placement European history class, students turned their research into a film.
It’s no surprise that she has twice been named the LASA Teacher of the Year and is a teacher whom students refer to frequently when they go out to middle schools and other high schools in the district on student recruiting trips.
One colleague said students enjoy Aguayo-Tabor’s classes so much that they ask other teachers to schedule field trips around her class so they won’t miss it.
Aguayo-Tabor, who holds a National Board Certification, is a recognized leader throughout her school. She has served as a mentor teacher for five years. She is the social studies department chair and serves on many campus committees. Although Aguayo-Tabor does not teach math, she sponsors LASA’s math club and was named one of the top 25 math teachers in the country because of her tireless sponsorship and support of the math team.
Texas’ other award recipient, Adelaida Olivares, also stands out as an inspirational leader. Olivares, the daughter of migrant farm workers, was selected for the award because in her short 10-year career, she has already earned a reputation as an educator’s educator, dedicated to bringing out the best in her teachers, her students, their parents and school volunteers.
She cares fervently about the students. Her passion to provide them with the best education possible provides infectious inspiration to her teachers.
“Both Adelaida Olivares and Maricruz Aguayo-Tabor are inspirations to us all. They make a difference every day they are in our schools,” Commissioner of Education Robert Scott said.
Olivares joined Del Valle immediately after college as a bilingual kindergarten teacher. By age 28, the district had named her principal of Ojeda Junior High School. After two years of success in that job, Olivares was named principal of the Freshman Academy, which is a school within Del Valle High School.
Before the creation of the ninth grade center, 45 percent of the high school freshmen were retained. With the steps Olivares has taken, the retention rate has dropped to 19 percent.
One of those steps involved creating a mandatory freshman orientation for students and parents. She did so because she realized that both students and parents did not understand the system of awarding course credits in high school. The first year she held the orientation, she offered 17 different sessions so people could attend whenever it fit their schedule. Orientation is part of her Pathways to Success program, which connects the school, the students and the parents to the success of each child. This program also helps students learn organizational skills and teaches them how to keep track of their assignments and grades.
Because she is bilingual, she is also able to speak to many families in their home language, which makes them feel more comfortable when they are at school. She has a strong relationship with the families because she has moved up with the students as they have advanced. She has now worked in elementary, middle and high schools.
“By shining a national spotlight on these exceptional people,” Milken said, “the Milken Educator Awards send a powerful message of the critical role that talented teachers play in preparing young people for a bright future.”
Olivares and Aguayo-Tabor will receive all-expenses paid trips to Los Angeles May 14-16 to attend the Milken Educator Forum where they will receive their awards.