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News Release - Third-grade Durango teacher surprised with 2014-15 Milken Educator Award and $25,000 cash

Feb. 4, 2015

Third-grade Durango teacher surprised with 2014-15 Milken Educator Award and $25,000 cash

The "Oscar of Teaching" Colorado recipient plays to each of her student's strengths

Sunnyside Elementary schoolteacher Carrie Harper was shocked when she heard her name called out as the recipient of $25,000 and Colorado’s 2014-15 Milken Educator Award today. Thunderous applause and cheers greeted the third-grade teacher as she walked past students, her colleagues and dignitaries to address the entire school in the picturesque mountain town.

According to Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Lowell Milken and Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen, Harper is a fine example of what a great teacher should be.

 Milken said he is impressed with Harper’s accomplishments in the classroom.

“Carrie should be commended and celebrated every day for her work with students, families and colleagues,” said Milken. “She consistently inspires and motivates her students to do their best. I am confident that she will continue to contribute to the teaching profession for many years to come and will make valuable contributions to the Milken Educator family.”

One of education’s most prestigious recognitions, the Award comes with a no-strings-attached cash prize of $25,000. Hailed by Teacher Magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” what separates this Award from others is that the recipients have no idea that they will be honored. This recognition is not a lifetime achievement award. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Encompassed in the recognition is the responsibility for those honored to stretch their professional practices and leadership to even higher levels.

“Ms. Harper inspires and motivates her students, colleagues and the community. She’s a dedicated and caring teacher whose accomplishments extend beyond the classroom to build capacity within the staff at Sunnyside Elementary School,” said Owen. “Her involvement in the Masters in Leadership program coupled with her strong talent as a teacher indicates endless possibilities in education. She’s one to watch.”

Harper is known for the effective and creative ways she infuses her love of learning into the whole Sunnyside Elementary community. Parents remark how impressed they are with Harper’s vibrant, enthusiastic teaching. She plays to each student’s strengths and recognizes each child’s unique way of learning.

High praise indeed for someone who has only been teaching for six years. However, Harper is one who sets her eyes on a goal and then seeks to exceed it. And she asks no less from her students. She develops learning rubrics with standards in mind, while students track their own progress and get continual feedback leading to the next level of achievement.

Harper cultivates a love for reading as a lifelong habit. Last year when she taught second grade, 83 percent of her students completed the literacy program, reading well over 3,000 minutes outside of the classroom. Research indicates that students who read at this level significantly outperform their peers who do not read at home. This achievement is especially important as Harper has been instrumental in Sunnyside’s compliance with the Colorado Reading to Ensure Academic Development (READ) Act, which focuses on early literacy development.

For Harper, it’s never too soon to teach life skills or get students thinking about their future. Partnering with local organizations, she’s invited guest experts from Pine River Valley Bank to talk about economics and math and from the Doubletree Hotel to teach recycling. When students read an article on air pollution in China, she created an interdisciplinary project in which students chose a plant or “created” a hybrid plant to reduce pollution. They even wrote letters to persuade China to give the plants a try!

Harper’s impact reaches beyond her classroom. As a data team leader at Sunnyside, she helps to establish school assessments and provides professional development to colleagues in technology.  Harper is enrolled in Fort Lewis College’s first cohort of students in the Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership program, emblematic of the focus on lifelong learning she instills in her own students.

“We are so proud of Ms. Harper, who is an example of the many great teachers in the district,” said Durango School District Superintendent Dan Snowberger. “We are lucky to have so many dedicated teachers and pleased that one of our teachers could receive the honor this year.” 

The Milken Award recognizes exemplary elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists who are furthering excellence in education. The Award alternates yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Milken Awards are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to MFF.

Along with the fanfare and recognition, Harper now belongs to the Milken Educator Network of more than 2,600 K–12 teachers, principals and specialists from around the country. Past recipients have used their Awards to finance their children’s education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

Colorado joined the Milken Educator Awards program in 1989. Since then, there have been 86 recipients in the state.

To get regular updates on notifications, follow the #TeachForTheStars and #MilkenAward hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. For information about the Milken Educator Awards and for photos and video, visit

The Milken Educator Awards program, created by the Milken Family Foundation, was launched in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.