October 13, 2011

DCPS Teacher of the Year Shira Fishman receives National Milken Educator Award 

McKinley High School Math Teacher Merits “Oscar of Teaching”

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A seemingly routine school-wide assembly turned into the surprise of a lifetime when the Milken Family Foundation (MFF) honored and stunned Shira Fishman, a math teacher at McKinley Technology High School, with a Milken Educator Award. 

The award, presented by MFF Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken, comes with a no-strings-attached cash prize of $25,000. Among the leaders participating in the ceremony were DC State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley, DC Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Ward 5 DC Councilman Harry Thomas Jr., and DC Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright. 

This year marks MFF’s 25th anniversary recognizing and rewarding America’s top teachers with what Teacher Magazine deemed “the Oscars of Teaching.” The awards program was conceived by Lowell Milken to recognize the importance of outstanding educators and encourage talented young people to enter the teaching profession. 

Unlike most teaching awards, the Milken Educator Awards have no formal nomination or application process. Each year, exceptional teachers, principals and specialists—recommended without their knowledge by a blue-ribbon panel appointed by each state’s department of education—are surprised with the news of their awards.

“Our public education system is at the heart of America’s promise and is essential in safeguarding the American dream for future generations. With research confirming that an effective teacher is the single most important school-related factor in raising student achievement, it is clear to see the critical role that outstanding teachers play in shaping our country,” said Lowell Milken. 

“We created the Milken Educator Awards to proclaim in a very public way that greatness in education must be recognized and rewarded. As the program’s motto extols, ‘the future belongs to the educated.’ Shira Fishman is an education game-changer who empowers students and teachers to exceed their own expectations of what is possible. She is an inspiration and example for communities, policymakers and students who may be inspired to enter the profession, and for all of our nation’s K-12 educators.”

Teaching is actually Shira Fishman’s second career. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, she worked as an engineer for three years after college, but found it couldn’t compare to the daily challenges of educating young minds. She now holds a master’s degree in education and, as math department chairwoman, her pedagogical prowess extends beyond her core subjects. Fishman connects her curriculum to real life by teaching math-based engineering projects and builds a community in her classroom where students help each other.

Fishman is exceptional with data, using individual findings to reach each student. Always drawing connections from real-world experiences, she, for example, teaches the “rate of change” using the deflation of a basketball with a slow leak. She sets high expectations, wanting all of her students to multiply their potential. And they, in turn, work doubly hard to please her. Her principal also routinely pairs her with struggling students who, as a result, consistently gain one grade level or more.

Thanks in large part to Fishman’s contributions, McKinley is a top-ranked school and bests the rest of the district. In 2010, grade 10 math scores showed 76 percent proficiency (43 percent state average); and secondary school math scores indicated proficiency of 76 percent (49 percent state). Eighty-seven percent of testers were proficient/advanced in math (50 percent district average), an increase of 38 percent from 2006–2011. 

The go-to person for educators in all disciplines, Fishman trains new teachers and led a school-wide project to motivate students to attend college. She is a member of the Academic Leadership Team and the Restructuring Committee as well as a consultant to the administrative team.  In the latter capacity, Fishman guides other teachers on best instructional practices, classroom management and observations.

The awards story doesn’t end with the surprise notification. New recipients are invited to join the Milken Educator Network, a group of distinguished educators whose expertise serves as a valuable resource to fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others shaping the future of education.

Award Criteria:

Candidates for the Milken Educator Awards are selected on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Exceptional educational talent as evidenced by effective instructional practices and student learning results in the classroom and school;
  • Exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession;
  • Individuals whose contributions to education are largely unheralded yet worthy of the spotlight;
  • Early- to mid-career educators who offer strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership; and
  • Engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues and the community.

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit http://www.mff.org

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