Carter G. Woodson Academy teacher Jacob Ball reacts in shock as learns he just won $25,000 from the Milken Family Foundation. He is surrounded by his students.

Agriculture teacher Jacob Ball is stunned to hear the big news: He has won a 2023-24 Kentucky Milken Educator Award, there’s a $25,000 check with his name on it, and this whole assembly was put together to honor him! In addition to teaching agriculture, Ball created the school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter and established a Junior MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences) chapter in partnership the University of Kentucky, his alma mater. (Photo by Milken Family Foundation)

(LEXINGTON, KY) – Jacob Ball, a 6th-12th grade agriculture teacher at Carter G. Woodson Academy (Fayette County), was celebrated on Oct. 27 as the latest Kentucky educator to receive the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

Ball was presented with the award, which includes a $25,000 unrestricted cash prize, in a surprise ceremony at his school that included students, faculty, district and community leaders.

The prestigious award, hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” was presented to Ball by Interim Kentucky Commissioner of Education Robin Kinney, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman and Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Jane Foley. This school year, up to 75 recipients across the country will be honored and celebrated as part of the Milken Family Foundation’s Journey to the 3,000th Milken Educator.

“It is an incredible honor to be in Fayette County today as we celebrate our most valuable educational resource – our hardworking, dedicated teachers,” said Kinney. “When you visit a classroom like Mr. Ball’s, it shows just how much he goes above and beyond what is expected of him in a way that inspires his students to do the same.”

Kinney added: “Mr. Ball is more than just a teacher; he is a true advocate for his students and is a pillar of support within the school community.”

Ball, who grew up on his family’s small farm in Nelson County, said he was shocked to hear his name called during an assembly that included his teaching colleagues and the entire student body.

“I am past shocked,” said Ball, talking to his students. “You guys are why we do this, we are fortunate every day to teach you, and we really mean that.”

Photo of Jacob Ball and dignitaries 10.27.23

Still in shock from the announcement, Milken Educator Award recipient Jacob Ball gets a hand holding up his oversized $25,000 check from visiting dignitaries and colleagues. From left, Kentucky Department of Education Deputy Commissioner and Chief Equity Officer Thomas Woods-Tucker; Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Jane Foley; recipient Jacob Ball; Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman; Kentucky Interim Commissioner of Education Robin Fields Kinney; Carter G. Woodson Academy Principal Nekesha Cozart; and Fayette County Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Houston Barber.

Ball is the second Kentucky educator to receive the national award this week. Shane Baker, a 3rd-grade teacher at Jennings Creek Elementary School (Warren County), was named a Milken Educator on Oct. 26 in Bowling Green.

Carter G. Woodson is a boys only school and provides an advanced and rigorous curriculum through the lens of African American history, culture and culturally responsive teaching and learning strategies.

Coleman said it is inspiring to meet teachers like Ball who work tirelessly in pursuit of student success.

“Mr. Ball is an exceptional educator and his contributions to the field of education and agriculture are truly commendable,” she said. “Through his instruction and guidance, he has not only expanded the horizons of his scholars but also made a significant impact in promoting diversity and innovation in the agricultural industry.”

“Recently, Mr. Ball’s scholars developed an African American/Hispanic Agriculture Wall of Fame,” Coleman said. “This not only recognizes the contributions of minority individuals but also serves as an inspiration for future generations. I am confident that in a few years, we will be seeing some Carter G. Woodson scholars on that wall and it will be because of Mr. Ball.”

Ball obtained his bachelor’s in career and technical education and agriculture education in 2011 from the University of Kentucky. He graduated from the University of the Cumberlands in 2015 with a master’s in education and obtained an education specialist degree in educational leadership from there in 2018.

“Jacob Ball gifts students with a rich, real-world agricultural education, deepening their appreciation of its impact on many facets of everyday life,” said Foley, who is a 1994 Milken Educator herself from Indiana. “With a combination of hands-on activities, daily reflection and deep inquiry, and partnerships with organizations and businesses, Jacob’s message to his students is clear: Pathways to successful careers in agriculture are possible, tangible and open to all.

In addition to teaching at Carter G. Woodson Academy, Ball also serves as an advisor for the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Junior Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS).

Last year, his students participated in 140 various agriculture projects across the state, logging an impressive 3,000 hours of real-world experience that culminated in the trip of a lifetime for nine students who traveled to Ireland for the Agriculture in Ireland summer tour.

Ball has held numerous positions in both education and the agricultural industry. Some of those positions include being a National Board-Certified Teacher in career and technical education, Kentucky Association of Agricultural Educators (KAAE) professional growth chair, Bluegrass Region KAAE vice chair and chair, and Bluegrass area president.

Created by Lowell Milken in 1987, the Milken Educator Awards publicly recognize excellence in teaching not only to inspire educators, but also students and communities to “Celebrate, Elevate and Activate” the American K-12 teaching profession.

Milken recipients do not apply to receive the award. Candidates are selected through a confidential process and are then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education.

Journeying to the 3,000th Milken Educator this season will reach $75 million in individual financial prizes spanning the length of the initiative and more than $144 million invested in the Milken Educator Award national network overall.

Baker and the other award recipients from across the country will attend the Milken Educator Forum, where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education.

In addition, they enter the Milken Friends Forever mentoring program, where freshman Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.

For more information about Baker and links to photos and a video from the ceremony, visit the Milken Educator Awards website.