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Meet the Cherry Creek science teacher who won a major award — and a $25,000 check

Grandview High School science teacher Lisa Rodgers, being hugged by fellow teachers, is stunned to find out that she is the winner of the 2017-2018 Milken Educator Award at Grandview High School on October 31, 2017.  (Photo by Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)
Grandview High School science teacher Lisa Rodgers, being hugged by fellow teachers, is stunned to find out that she is the winner of the 2017-2018 Milken Educator Award at Grandview High School on October 31, 2017. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

A Cherry Creek teacher on Tuesday was surprised with a unique award — one that comes with a $25,000, no-strings-attached check.

When Lisa Rodgers heard her name called Tuesday at an all-school assembly in the gym, she said other school staff next to her had to push her out of her chair.

“I thought, I haven’t applied for anything, so why would it be me?” Rodgers said.

Teachers can’t apply for the Milken Educator Award. Teachers are identified through a confidential process. Then a state-appointed panel reviews those who show “student learning results in the classroom and school” and consider that and other factors. The Milken Family Foundation — founded by the Milken brothers, who had a role in creating the junk-bond market in the 1980s — gives final approval.

Last year, two Colorado teachers received the award, including an elementary teacher in Aurora Public Schools. This year, Rodgers is the sole recipient in the state.

Grandview has almost 2,700 students, about 42 percent of whom are students of color. The school performs above state averages on state tests, graduation rates and other measures.

Rodgers wasn’t planning on becoming a teacher. She said she decided instead to pursue a career working with wildlife, but soon after ended up at Grandview High School attracted by a teaching position for a wildlife course. The course no longer exists, but Rodgers, now in her 13th year of teaching high schoolers science, said she can’t imagine doing anything else.

Lowell Milken, president of the Milken Family Foundation, said at the assembly that society does little to honor or recognize the good work teachers do.

“That never made any sense to me,” he said.

Rodgers will join a team of teachers, all recipients of the same award, in getting access to extra teacher training and resources to help her become an even better teacher.

Rodgers said she was excited, but needed time to process the news, and to research the foundation and the award.

Principal Lisa Sprague said Rodgers stands out because despite the large high school, Rodgers makes time to help all her students as well as her fellow teachers.

Courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation
Courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation

“She’s truly concerned about every kid,” Sprague said. “She knows every one of her students.”

Walking through the hallways after the award announcement, several students congratulated Rodgers.

Students described Rodgers as a helpful teacher because she guides them when they were stuck on their work.

“What I think is special about my classroom is I try to balance accountability and opportunity,” Rodgers said. “There’s nothing free. You’re going to have to earn it, but I am going to support and love you all the way.”

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