By Mike Marsee
Angie Beavin enjoys teaching her co-workers almost as much as she enjoys teaching her students – but not quite.
Beavin, a 5th-grade teacher at Peaks Mill Elementary School (Franklin County), has spent a great deal of time in the past few years helping to improve instructional practices at her school. She has even considered making a career move, perhaps becoming an instructional coach.
However, she said the students keep bringing her back to the classroom.
“They need structure, and they need love and support, and I’m there to give it all to them,” Beavin said.
Beavin’s students, who have become consistently high achievers within their school and the district in recent years, have been the beneficiaries of her professional growth. However, it was Beavin who was being lauded Feb. 11 as the recipient of a Milken Educator Award and the $25,000 prize that accompanies it.
Beavin, who received her award during a surprise announcement at her school, is one of 33 Milken Educators honored during the 2018-2019 school year, and the only one in Kentucky. The Milken Family Foundation has recognized more than 2,700 educators – including 56 in Kentucky – and awarded more than $68 million since the Milken Educator Awards were first presented in 1987.
“Promoting and elevating the teaching profession is a top priority for us,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said. “There’s nothing that fits into that work better than the opportunity to honor teaching excellence, and Angie’s a great example of that excellence.”
Dana Blankenship, the principal at Peaks Mill Elementary, said it’s a tremendous honor for a teacher she described as “an ultimate professional,” as well as for the school and the district.
“This is terrific for all of us. We’re so proud of Peaks Mill and Franklin County,” she said. “It’s so awesome to have a teacher of her caliber be recognized.”
Blankenship said Peaks Mill was among the bottom 8 percent of elementary schools in Kentucky and ranked last among elementary schools in Franklin County about six years ago based on K-PREP assessments, but she said it was ranked at the top of the district in 2017. Beavin’s classroom has been consistently at or near the top of the district in MAP scores for the past three years, and Blankenship said Beavin’s students consistently grow from fall to spring MAP assessments.
“Angie is the go-to teacher in this building when it comes to student learning and practices. She has a clear vision for her students and everything she chooses for instruction is tied to that vision,” Blankenship said in a written recommendation. “She tries so many strategies to reach each and every child in her classroom and make them successful, and in addition to that she works with her team and she works at supporting younger teachers.”
District Instructional Coach Michelle Cassady, in an interview that was part of the Milken award evaluation process, said Beavin regularly reviews data to help keep her students on track.
“If her midyear numbers aren’t where they need to be, she is immediate in adjusting instruction,” Cassady said. “She searches for the resources she needs, and she is deliberate about who and what needs to be targeted. She knows what needs to be done to ensure that her struggling students are exceeding benchmarks and her high-achievement learners are being challenged.”
Beavin’s mother operated an in-home day care business, and she said she was drawn to teaching after watching her mother build relationships with the children. She said she realized through working with her mother that she had a knack for building those relationships, too.
Beavin has spent her entire 11-year career in education as a 3rd- or 5th-grade teacher at Peaks Mill Elementary. She said the biggest change in her career arc came about five years ago when she and Blankenship attended an institute on the Public Education and Business Coalition’s (PEBC) Thinking Strategies teaching method, at which she delved into research-based thinking strategies that promote a deeper understanding of content.
“It all just made sense, and I thought, ‘Why didn’t anybody tell me this five years ago?’” she said. “I said, ‘At the next teachers meeting I’ve got to share this news.’ It wasn’t mind-blowing, and it wasn’t something where you had to change everything about the way you taught. But it was a new technique, a new way of talking and thinking with the kids, and it has made a huge difference for me.”
“She came back ready to take on the world,” Blankenship said in a written recommendation. “She volunteered to present it to the entire staff, and her energy and enthusiasm became the driving force for this model in our building. She continues to lead our professional development in this area and frequently provides resources, training and instructional strategies for the rest of the teaching staff.”
Beavin said she is proud of her work in that area.
“I love teaching the other teachers as well as teaching kids,” she said. “I love having other people in my classroom. It pushes me; it makes me want to be better.
“I’ve definitely thought about becoming an instructional coach; I’m just not ready to be away from the kids quite yet. I just really want to help other teachers grow, because truly, that’s what helps me grow, when I can sit and listen and collaborate.”
Beavin also helps her fellow teachers by hosting a peer learning lab, in which teachers from other schools and districts watch her teach and meet with her before and after those observations. She also has promoted parent involvement by creating parent academies that model peer learning labs, in which parents meet for conferences with her and observe the classroom.
Another interviewee, former Franklin County Superintendent Chrissy Jones, said students are drawn to Beavin.
“Students respect her and seek her out because she challenges them all – poor, gifted, black, white, Hispanic. She tries to move all of them to the top level,” Jones said.
Assistant Superintendent Sharla Six said in her interview that Beavin meets students where they are – both literally and figuratively.
“Any time I go into Angie’s classroom, she is never at her desk. She is eye to eye with a student,” Six said. “She approaches them on their level. Angie is always on task and engaged.”
“When I sit down to confer – which I think is the most vital part of my lesson because I can catch misconceptions – I’m also telling stories,” Beavin said. “I think being at their level makes them trust me a little more, listen a little deeper. I’m like, ‘Look at me, I’m getting ready to tell you something really cool.’”
Eleven prior winners of Milken Educator Awards from Kentucky attended the announcement, and several of them remarked that the award forever changed their professional lives for the better. Beavin said she isn’t how it might affect her career, but she is eager to see where it leads, beginning with a trip to a Milken Educator Forum March 21-24 in New Orleans.
“I know that I’m going to learn a lot, collaborating with these people who are considered highly distinguished,” she said. “I’m excited just to be able to pick their brains and work with them. I can’t wait to hear what they are doing in their classrooms.”
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