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'The Oscars of teaching': Claremore teacher surprised with prestigious $25,000 award for professional excellence

'The Oscars of teaching': Claremore teacher surprised with prestigious $25,000 award for professional excellence


CLAREMORE — A Claremore teacher was surprised Tuesday morning with a $25,000 award known as “The Oscars of teaching.”

Brooke Lee, an eighth grade English teacher at Will Rogers Junior High School, was presented with the Milken Educator Award in front of the entire school at a morning assembly.

“You can’t apply, and we don’t accept nominations,” said Jane Foley, senior vice president at the Milken Family Foundation. “You don’t find us — we find you.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister joined in the surprise presentation.

Lee’s jaw dropped when Stitt called her down from the bleachers to pose with an oversized check with her name emblazoned on it.

She is among about 40 teachers being honored with Milken Educator Awards in 2019-20 and the only honoree in Oklahoma.

The foundation noted that Lee’s students regularly demonstrate two years of academic growth in a single year and outperform state academic standards for English/language arts. It also selected her for her use of flexible lessons that allow for individual students’ personal interests and abilities.

“Brooke’s commitment to each child’s growth and her creative yet empirically grounded approach to teaching is the kind of inspirational leadership we seek in Milken educators,“ said Foley.

After thanking the Milken foundation and the dignitaries present, Lee thanked her school’s administration for the freedom of creativity and collaboration with her colleagues.

And then she got choked up.

“I want to thank my co-workers, because I would not be getting this if it was not for you all. You truly have been instrumental in my growth as a teacher,” she said, fanning her face with her hand to try to stop the tears, before prompting laughter throughout the school’s gymnasium. “Of course, my husband, and my kids and my family for, uh, are they here? No? For being supportive of me and my career choice and being the kids of a teacher mom.”

Lastly, Lee thanked her students.

“You are the reason we do this,” she said to thunderous applause.

After the assembly, Lee took questions from the media about what, if anything, she knew about the day’s special events.

Lee said she only knew that the governor and state superintendent would be making classroom visits at her school.

When Foley announced at the assembly that a Will Rogers teacher would be receiving a $25,000 award, “some of my students said, ‘Mrs. Lee, it’s gonna be you.’ I said, ‘It’s not gonna be me.’”

After posing with Stitt, Hofmeister, Foley and a half dozen or so previous Milken award winners from across the state, Lee was asked what she’ll do with the windfall.

“I don’t know!” Lee said, laughing. “I’ll have to talk to my husband about that.“

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Andrea Eger 918-581-8470

Twitter: @AndreaEger

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Staff Writer

I'm a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, I have been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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