BELLFLOWER — Washington Elementary School kindergarten teacher Katherine Shaw has received the $25,000 Milken Educator Award, the first Bellflower Unified School District educator to be so honored.
Shaw learned of her award during a surprise school ceremony March 3, where she was celebrated by colleagues, Milken Foundation Chairman Lowell Milken, district Superintendent Brian Jacobs, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and hundreds of students.
“I was initially so shocked to see a full room,” Shaw said. “I thought the school was going to be recognized for their 2016 California Gold Ribbon School.”
When it was announced that one teacher would be honored for their outstanding work, Shaw thought of all the teachers at her school who deserved the award.
“I was so shocked. I had no idea. I started shaking and I felt so honored,” Shaw said about realizing she was the award recipient.
Shaw,who has taught sixth, fourth and second grade, has worked at Washington Elementary School for 16 years. She is currently in her second year teaching kindergarten, an experience that has been a positive challenge for her.
“Every grade level has its challenges,” Shaw said. “You have to change your instruction and find ways to keep students engaged.
“[The kindergarten kids] come in scared of the unknown and they miss their parents. But I feel that when I’m in the classroom, they inspire me to be a better teacher so I can teach them about the world and how they can make it better. I love that everyday is different; they come in with questions everyday. They’re sponges of learning and I love seeing their growth. The kids are brilliant.”
Washington Elementary primarily serves Hispanic students in a high-poverty location. An English language learner herself who struggled with reading and math, Shaw credited a particular teacher of hers for changing her life.
“I went to a private school, and there was a nun — a teacher who I was lucky to have for three years — who really inspired and believed in me,” Shaw said. “She made connections with students. I struggled with math but every time she told me that I was going to get it.”
Washington Elementary Principal Angelica Montelongo said that Shaw received the award because of her passionate dedication to her students, as well as for creating and fostering a healthy community.
“[Shaw] promotes academic achievement,” Montelongo said. “She has a strong connection with the academics and the research-based instruction. She focuses on standards and has high expectations for her students.”
Montelongo added that Shaw doesn’t work in isolation, but rather builds community strength in other teachers and parents and is always trying to find ways to improve instruction.
Beyond the classroom, Shaw is involved in her school’s Grade Level Leadership Committee; is a trainer for Path to Proficiency (which helps students with writing); mentors other teachers through the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program; and advocates for her students, the school and the district.
Now in its 30th year, the Milken Educator Award, an initiative by the Milken Family Foundation, provides cash prizes for early-to-mid career education professionals for their accomplishments and the potential they have shown to excel in their field.
Since its inception in 1987, more than 2,700 awards totaling $68 million have been given to teaching professionals across the country.
Of her recognition by colleagues and the foundation, Shaw said: “It’s been a complete honor to be part of the Milken community, but in order for children to be successful, there needs to be a strong community of teachers, counselors, administration and parents.”
Shaw said she would like to take a trip with her husband and two children with the money she received. She also would like to purchase Chromebooks for her classroom.