You’ll find Brooke Powers in the grocery store some nights getting strange looks because her cart is filled with 10 bags of puffy Cheetos and 10 bags of crunchy Cheetos, items she uses to teach her seventh-grade math students Algebra.
It’s Powers’ reputation as a “motivational mastermind, amping up student interest though math games... for being able to move any student at any level forward,” that officials highlighted Tuesday.
That’s when, in a surprise school assembly, the teacher at Lexington’s Beaumont Middle School was named one of the best educators in the nation and awarded the national Milken Award. Powers was given $25,000 cash to use however she wants.
The Milken Educator Award has been described by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching.” Powers, 34, is the only Milken Award winner from Kentucky this year, and is among the 44 winners for 2017-18.
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Milken Educators are selected in their early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for what they anticipate accomplishing.
“She is an absolutely amazing teacher,” said Beaumont Middle School Principal Denis Beall. “She is able to get results from all types of kids and helps them continue to grow. She makes every kid feel valued. Kids that have not necessarily had a great experience before they get to her class, flourish when they are in there.”
Powers is a leader in the building and in the district, Beall said.
“We just have so much fun every day,” Powers said. “Seventh grade is one of the toughest transition years because you are moving away from concrete models and thinking to the algebraic and the abstract and that can be hard for a kid.”
“We drank salt water a couple of weeks ago to study ratio proportions,” she said.
“She makes me learn every day,” said seventh-grader Brody Turner. “She plays fun games with us and helps us out when we are struggling.”
Powers said she tries to identify what’s holding students back, “makes sure every kid feels confident and comfortable” and celebrates their successes.
Unlike most teacher recognition programs, educators cannot apply for the Milken and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by the state departments of education. The most exceptional are recommended for the award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation, officials said.
Powers thought she was going to an assembly in the gym Tuesday to hear Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt speak about the state’s testing system. Her students were moaning and groaning at the thought and she was wondering how they would behave.
“I could not figure out why we were going to talk to these kids about state testing, for the life of me. I was completely shocked, I had no idea,” Powers said.
Donna Melton, who coordinates the Milken program for the Kentucky Department of Education, said she thinks it’s the first time in eight years that a Fayette County educator has won the Milken Award. Kentucky’s last winner was a few years ago. Powers is the 55th educator to receive the Milken Award in Kentucky, said Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Administrator Greg Gallagher.
Outside the classroom, Powers writes a math education blog and participates in online math education groups. She helps new teachers in Fayette County..
“When you are passionate about something it’s not hard to sacrifice your free time to do what you really love,” Powers said.
The Mercer County native has been at Beaumont for six years and before that taught at Lexington Traditional Magnet Middle. She is a single mom to two grade school students. She said that to balance being a parent, teacher and educational leader, “you learn to not sleep a lot and you learn to make the best of the time you have. I am the queen of multitasking.”
“Probably being a mom has been the thing that has pushed me the hardest to be a good teacher,” said Powers, because she knows that parents entrust their children to her.
In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, Powers will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., in March.
Past recipients have used their Milken Awards to fund their children’s education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips or established scholarships. What will Powers do with her $25,000?
First, she said, “I really think I’ll do something special with my kids this summer to thank them. It’s really hard to be a teacher’s kid.”