Friday, Oct. 17, 2003 | 9:14 a.m.
When her name was called Thursday in the gym at Clark High School, English teacher Joanne Ho shook her head in disbelief, brushed off a few tears and then calmly made her way from the bleachers full of cheering students to accept a check for $25,000 from financier and philanthropist Michael Milken.
Ho, who has spent all but two of her 16 years in education teaching at Clark, was recognized for excellence in the classroom. Nevada has had 72 educators win the prize since the the Milken Family Foundation began handing out the checks 18 years ago.
Longtime Clark County educator Wayne Tanaka -- a past winner of the Milken award himself -- could only watch in admiration at the poise of his former co-worker as she accepted hugs and congratulations from co-workers, students and her husband, Stan Ho.
"Serene, that's my word for Joanne, and that's why the kids love her," Tanaka said, former principal at Clark. "There's no one more deserving of this in this county or this state."
There is no nomination process and the selection committee is kept secret. The foundation hands out 100 of the awards nationwide each year, and recipients take part in workshops and leadership conferences throughout the year. Teachers may spend the money any way they wish, but Ho reassured the Clark community she wouldn't forget them.
"I am so happy you are all here to share this moment with me, and I will share what I have with you," Ho told the audience.
Given the important role they play in the lives of so many students, teachers don't get enough recognition, Milken said.
Clark County, one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, has additional challenges when it comes to educatin, Milken said.
"If you build 12 new schools every year, you need people to lead those schools," Milken said. "Teachers have been called the foundation of a successful community, but they're really the infrastructure, the heart and soul."
Ho earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Hawaii in 1977 and is working toward a master's degree at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Along with Tanaka, Ho helped create the Teaching Reading Across the Curriculum for Success Academy at Clark, a magnet program designed to help at-risk students achieve.
Ivan Ruelas, who has Ho for freshman English, said he was glad to see his teacher honored.
"She's tight," Ruelas said. "She treats everybody the same, she doesn't have favorites. The class is hard, but Mrs. Ho helps you if you need it."
Following the ceremony Ho admitted it would take some time for the honor to sink in and for her to decide how to spend the prize.
"Teachers aren't used to getting money," Ho said.
At least some of the prize will go toward a family trip, possibly Disneyland, Ho said. She and her husband have two sons -- Brenton, 19, a student at Community College of Southern Nevada's Cheyenne campus; and Stuart, 23, a senior at UNLV.
"I want to take a little time with them just so they have me as a mother and a wife," Ho said. "Teachers are so focused on what we do, sometimes we need to remember the other parts of our lives."
In another part of his life, Michael Milken was notorious as "the junk bond king" who ran afoul of government securities regulations and served time in prison. He later paid the government $42 million after being charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with a violation of his probation for going back to work in the securities business.
In 1996 he founded Knowledge Universe, an educational services company, and became more well known for his philanthropic activities.