One Aurora teacher just became $25,000 richer.
Jennie Schmaltz, a third-grade teacher at Elkhart Elementary School, was surprised with a Milken Educator Award Wednesday — an honor that comes with a no-strings-attached prize of $25,000.
An Aurora native and graduate of Smoky Hill High School, Schmaltz was presented with the award and check Oct. 26 at a surprise assembly in the Elkhart gymnasium. Several notable dignitaries attended the ceremony, including Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn, Colorado Department of Education executive Colleen O’Neil, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-6th) and several members of both the local and state boards of education.
“You achieve greatness when you surround yourself with greatness and when you learn, and so I need to point out that I’ve learned from (Principal) Mr. (Ron) Schumacher, and (Assistant Principal) Mrs. (Monique Shevlin-) Davis and (second grade teacher) Ms. (Mehgan) Pellegrino and all of your teachers,” Schmaltz said at the ceremony. “I learn something every day from these people. I learn every day from you (the students).”
Granted to more than 2,700 educators across the country for more than 30 years, the Milken Awards are the brainchild of billionaire businessman and philanthropist Lowell Milken. They’re funded by his affiliated Milken Family Foundation.
“Data-driven, deeply caring and committed to the community, Jennie Schmaltz personifies the qualities of an outstanding teacher,” Milken, who attended the ceremony at Elkhart, said in a statement. “By embracing the diverse instructional needs of Elkhart Elementary School, Jennie helps improve the academic performance and engagement of her students while boosting the morale and development of her faculty.”
The Milken Family Foundation is slated to dispense a total of 35 individual educator awards this year. The organization has disbursed $138 million throughout the history of the educator recognition program, about $68 million of which has gone specifically to the $25,000 prizes for educators, according to a press release.
The state Department of Education “confidentially sources” candidates for the awards and makes recommendations to the Milken Foundation, which makes the final decision on the winners, according to Milken Foundation Spokeswoman Lynne Russo.
A teacher at Elkhart for the past nine years, Schmaltz bases much of her teaching approach on the International Baccalaureate (IB) model. In a press release, the Milken Foundation touted Schmaltz’s work leading professional development at Elkhart as the school’s Teacher Partner, as well as her efforts to improve student performance.
Formerly operating under the state’s “priority improvement” status, Elkhart has retained the Department of Education’s “performance “ status, the highest possible designation, for the past four years, according to CDE.
“Ms. Schmaltz’s dedication to her students is an inspiration to us all,” Katy Anthes, Colorado’s interim education commissioner, said in a statement. “She clearly puts her heart and soul into her work, motivating not only her students but her fellow teachers as well.”
In Elkhart classroom C34, the proof of Schmaltz’s success and popularity can be gleaned by chatting with any one of her some 20 students.
“I think she should deserve it because she has been working so hard and teaching us new things,” said third-grader Alondra Gonzalez, one of Schmaltz’s students. “I’m proud of her because she’s really nice and caring, and each time when I feel sad or, like, mad, she always comes and cheers me up.”
Schmaltz hinted at using her award funds to travel, though she stopped short of committing to a particular trip. She did, however, say she’ll start to dip into the purse by first throwing a pizza party for her class.