The Oscars of Teaching

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Students at Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr. Elementary School are being prepared for bright futures thanks in part to the talents of their science and math coordinator, Lukas Hefty. He was surprised with a national award, fanfare and a cash prize to match his family name during an all-school assembly held today. The honor, known as the Milken Educator Award, is hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching” and comes with an unrestricted $25,000 financial prize that Hefty can use however he wishes.

Hefty is the only Milken Educator Award recipient for the Sunshine State this year and among up to 35 honorees who will receive the prestigious recognition nationwide for 2016-17. This season marks the initiative’s 30th year changing the lives of outstanding educators.

Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley presented the Award to Hefty, alongside Florida Department of Education Deputy Chancellor of Educator Quality Dr. Brian Dassler and Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego.

“Having talented, passionate educators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is paramount to preparing students for the challenges of a fast-paced global economy,” said Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and a 1994 Indiana Milken Educator. “Lukas Hefty draws students into the excitement of these fields and carefully guides them to reach their maximum potential. He is also a valued resource to colleagues by synthesizing complex material, sharing best practices and modeling techniques. Lukas truly personifies the Milken Educator Awards motto, ‘The future belongs to the educated.'”

Hefty has led the evolution of the Jamerson Engineering Units, a unique, teacher-created curriculum for all grade levels. He orchestrates extended planning sessions, facilitates team discussions, sources supporting materials, and collaborates with teachers on ideas for design challenges, always ensuring that plans align with the school’s rigorous standards and benchmarks for innovative and critical thinking. He teaches an after-school STEM lab for fourth- and fifth-grade students and has organized two schoolwide engineering fairs involving team displays, student-led activities, an all-school design challenge and evening events that drew more than 800 family and community members.

“Today, there are more jobs than ever in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and that trend is expected to continue,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “By engaging students as early as kindergarten in the school’s STEM activities and inviting families to join in the fun, Mr. Hefty is helping young learners establish a solid foundation that will benefit them as they continue their education and eventually enter the workforce. I am pleased to recognize him for his dedication to education, and I look forward to learning about the great things his students are bound to accomplish as a result of his efforts.”

Under Hefty’s STEM leadership, students are flourishing. In 2011, only 48% of fifth-grade students achieved a level 3 or higher on the science FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test). By 2015, 81% of students reached that benchmark. The school’s math and science scores rank in the top five among the district’s more than 80 elementary schools. A Magnet School of Excellence, Jamerson Elementary was named the country’s top elementary STEM program at the Future of Education Technology Conference in 2016.

“Jamerson Elementary School’s success is built on the dedication of its educators, and Mr. Lukas Hefty exemplifies this commitment through his leadership, creativity and insatiable passion for teaching,” said Grego. “The engineering and mathematics program has become a nationally recognized model, and Mr. Hefty’s keen vision for what excellence should look like has helped shape the program’s growing success. Our students are fortunate to have him in Pinellas County.”

Hefty is known as a quiet, expert observer and an invaluable resource for students, staff, current families, prospective families and other schools across the county. He plays a significant role in continuing education at Jamerson Elementary, modeling lessons and teaching techniques in the classroom and leading STEM workshops to raise teachers’ comfort level with the unique integrated STEM curriculum. Hefty works closely with colleagues to meet each student’s needs, pulling small groups of struggling students together and providing differentiated curriculum to help them succeed. And they do: In past years, 90% of the students studying with Hefty in these small groups made learning gains on state standardized tests. Hefty is credited with raising application rates to the magnet school, where admission is by lottery.

Hefty shares his expertise freely, leading tours at Jamerson Elementary for local and state educators. He is the facilitator for the Jamerson Magnet Leadership Team and advisor for Azalea Middle School’s Engineering Gateway to Technology magnet program. Hefty also mentors three school teams outside Pinellas County as they build their own engineering programs and curriculum.

He has presented at the Magnet Schools of America Conference and for the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics and published articles in industry journals like Dimensions in Mathematics, Science and Children, and Teaching Children Mathematics (TCM); his TCM article “Goldilocks an Engineer?” explored how to teach engineering to kindergarteners. As a result of Hefty’s presentations and articles, Jamerson Elementary has shared its teacher-developed STEM curriculum with schools and universities from more than 30 states. Schools around the country regularly seek Hefty out to provide leadership on developing curriculum, maintaining or starting a magnet school and designing professional leadership opportunities.

Hefty is National Board Certified. He earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary education in 2004 and a Master of Arts in elementary education with a math/science emphasis in 2008 from the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. He is currently an adjunct professor there teaching math practices to future elementary teachers.

More information about Hefty, plus links to photos and a video from today’s assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at http://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/lukas-hefty.

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Hefty’s honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top principals, teachers and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2016-17 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum, March 23-25, 2017, in New Orleans. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about the importance of maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at www.facebook.com/milkeneducatorawards, www.twitter.com/milken, www.youtube.com/milkenaward, and http://instagram.com/milkenfamilyfdn.

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