Lauren Hunter, a fifth grade reading specialist at William Paca/Old Post Elementary School in Abingdon, is the latest Harford County educator to receive a prestigious National Milken Award.
Hunter did not know she had won the $25,000 cash award from the Milken Family Foundation until she attended a surprise assembly at the school early Wednesday morning. Before students, fellow faculty members, staff and elected officials, she accepted the award from Dr. Lillian M. Lowery, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools.
Hunter, a reading specialist for eight years, whose students continually show high levels of growth and advancement each year, is free to use the cash prize in any manner she chooses, according to the Maryland Department of Education news release announcing the award.
"It is wonderful that this accomplished reading specialist is one out of a select few across the nation to receive a 2012 Milken Educator Award for her outstanding dedication and commitment to education," Lowery said during the event. "Her ability to focus her instructional practices to meet the individual needs of each of her students proves she is a model of excellence for the profession."
Lowery commented on Hunter's accomplishments, including developing a reward system to recognize students' positive behaviors.
"Her fervent enthusiasm for teaching Maryland's students — from the development and implementation of initiatives that address overall student achievement to her willingness to mentor new teachers — are essential to the undeniable success of William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School students," she said.
HCPS Superintendent Robert Tomback also congratulated Hunter on her achievement.
"Mrs. Hunter represents the exceptional teachers delivering high-quality instruction at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School, and in Harford County as a whole, each and every day," Tomback said. "Our teachers are passionate and dedicated and are raising the expectations and academic achievements for all of our students. Mrs. Hunter is very deserving of this extraordinary honor, and I am extremely proud of her accomplishments."
The Milken Educator Awards recognize the importance of outstanding educators and encourage talented young people to explore teaching. The award provides public recognition and an unrestricted financial award of $25,000 to selected educators who are advancing public education. The program began in Maryland in 1993, marking the 19th year. With this year's award winner, Maryland has a total of 57 Milken National Educators, who have been awarded a total of $1,425,000.
"It was definitely a surprise," Hunter, 30, said about the award Wednesday afternoon. "I had no idea."
The Abingdon resident was told that the state superintendent would be visiting William Paca/Old Post Road to celebrate the school's teachers and students accomplishments in raising Maryland State Assessment scores.
Little did she know that when the topic quickly changed to a Milken Award recipient at the school that she would be the one named.
"My mouth was just hanging open," Hunter said.
Hunter was nominated earlier this year for Harford County's Teacher of the Year award and made it to the top five.
In addition to the state and county superintendent, State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti and County Executive David Craig were in attendance for Wednesday's special assembly.
After she composed herself, Hunter said she had met previous Milken Award winners, including Harford County's most recent winner and former Harford County Teacher of the Year Christian Slattery.
Slattery, a vocal music teacher at Hall's Cross Roads Elementary School in Aberdeen, was Harford's last Milken Award winner in 2008.
"I thanked them and said it was an honor to be part of such an elite group of educators," Hunter said.
She also thanked the kids and said, "You guys are the reason why I come in and do what I do."
A teacher down to the core, Hunter said her first thought after the shock wore off was that somebody had to let the teachers know she wouldn't be in class that morning.
"I do what I do just because I love the kids and I love teaching," she said. "I love being good at what I do."
Hunter said she wasn't even aware she was being considered for the award, too focused on her own work to realize her performance in the classroom was receiving recognition.
With the national award under her belt, Hunter said she "strives to go higher in Harford County" and hopes to one day be a mentor teacher or instructional facilitator.
As for the Milken money, Hunter plans to pay off the rest of her wedding from August, take a nice vacation and, because all teachers need a good night's sleep, a new mattress.
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