Milken Family Foundation
Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018 | 2 a.m.
On a crisp, Wednesday afternoon at Pinecrest Academy Horizon, students sat cross-legged on the gymnasium floor waiting for an assembly to start that would highlight their achievement as the state’s top charter school by the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority.
Wendy Shirey, the Henderson school’s principal, addressed the students and staff to praise their efforts in helping the school obtain five-star status.
“Who would have thought that a converted strip mall would become the highest performing charter school in the entire state of Nevada,” Shirey said to the crowd.
While that’s true, it was not the reason for the assembly, and unbeknownst to Shirey, she had planned her own celebration. The principal was the surprise recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award that celebrates exceptional educators across the nation.
Her school was one of up to 40 across the nation — and the only school in Nevada — to receive the $25,000 unrestricted award.
Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards have no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are picked through a confidential selection process, reviewed by panels appointed by the state department of education and then approved by the Milken Family Foundation.
The awards have been given to teachers nationwide since 1987 to recognize teaching excellence publicly, and foster appreciation for the profession in the larger community.
“Our country does so many things well, but there’s one thing we don’t do well enough and that is honor, celebrate and recognize the important work our teachers do,” said Lowell Milken, the Milken Family Foundation chairman. “Think about it, we’re so quick in our society to recognize greatness in other professions — in the sports profession and entertainment — but isn’t it odd that the education profession, the one profession that prepares all others is seldom part of that celebration.”
Shirey was chosen for her data-driven and hands-on approach to transform the downward trending performance of the school’s fifth grade. Within six months, the student’s performances turned around.
Additionally, math and English for both elementary and middle school showed growth under Shirey’s leadership. Elementary school growth in math increased 4.5 percent and English was up 12 percent for the 2017-18 school year. The middle school, which is now housed at a different campus, saw a 16 percent increase for math and a 23 percent for English for the 2017-18 school year.
Shirey held back tears as she accepted the award honoring her impact as an educator in Nevada and reflected on how her kindergarten and first-grade teacher, Mrs. Lewis, made an impact on her life.
“One thing that she did, and I will never forget and maybe she did this for every child, I’m not sure, but she took me out to ice cream. She worked it out with my mom,” Shirey said. “I just always thought it was so cool to take an interest like that. I do remember — it was a very small town — and my brother had gotten some award for his school, I remember her saying to me one day that’s going to be you.”