Elementary Education

North Central College alumna earns national award for teaching excellence

May 01, 2013

North Central College alumna Stephanie Theis ’05 Hawkins, a second-grade teacher at Lynne Thigpen Elementary School in Joliet, Ill., was recognized for her teaching with a 2012-2013 Milken Educator Award.

A school-wide assembly was called on April 12, and students and teachers were told it would feature a member of the Illinois State Board of Education. What Hawkins did not realize, however, was that she would be presented with the Milken Educator Award for excellence in the education profession.

“This is one of the most amazing things that’s ever happened me,” Hawkins said during her awarding. “Hard work pays off, boys and girls, and I’m here to show you that it pays off every day.”

Hawkins was the sole winner in Illinois and one of 33 education professionals nationwide to receive the award for 2012-2013. The Milken Educator Award, considered to be the “Oscar of Teaching,” recognizes early- to mid-career educators for both current accomplishments and potential for future achievements. Teachers recognized also receive a $25,000 reward for their work—money Hawkins says she will use for additional supplies in her classroom.

An elementary education graduate with a minor in psychology, Hawkins began teaching soon after graduating from North Central in 2005 and has been with Thigpen for the past three years.

At Thigpen, Hawkins sets a high standard of achievement for students. After beginning the current school year with 57 percent of the class reading below grade level, Hawkins helped reduce that portion by 21 percent, with many now reading at the fifth-grade level. She also has actively worked alongside other teachers within Thigpen to improve the learning experience for students. She serves on a number of committees, including the school’s Professional Learning Community Guiding Coalition and the Curriculum and Instruction Committee.

Maureen Kincaid, North Central’s associate professor and chair of education, said, “We have a rigorous program at North Central and push our students to excel in all aspects of being a teacher. We’re so proud of our graduates, like Stephanie, who continue those high expectations of themselves and experience great success and impact student achievement, especially in high-need schools.”

Click here to view a video of the award presentation.

The Milken Family Foundation does not accept nominations for the award. Instead, each state’s department of education appoints a panel, which searches for the state’s top educators. The educators selected from this process are then passed on to the foundation administrators for final consideration.

By Klariza Alvaran ’13