Shane Baker smiles and claps his hands in surprise.

Third-grade teacher Shane Baker of Jennings Creek Elementary (Warren County) was surprised Oct. 26 with being named a Kentucky Milken Educator Award winner. He received the award and $25,000 for his impact at his school, where he is known as an early adopter of new technology in the classroom. His creative instructional methods introduce opportunities for students to explore digital tools in a fun, project-based learning setting that supports all of his students. Photo courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation

(BOWLING GREEN, KY) – Shane Baker, a 3rd-grade teacher at Jennings Creek Elementary School (Warren County), was celebrated on Oct. 26 as the latest Kentucky educator to receive the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

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

The prestigious award, hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” was presented by Interim Kentucky Commissioner of Education Robin Fields 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 great to be in Bowling Green to celebrate Shane Baker, one of Kentucky’s outstanding educators,” said Kinney. “Mr. Baker goes above and beyond what is expected of him as a teacher and a colleague and inspires his students to do the same. He is more than just a teacher; he is a true advocate for the holistic development of his students and a pillar of support within the school community.”

Baker said he was stunned when he heard his name called in an assembly that included all of his school colleagues and entire student body.

“I had no idea this was going to happen today, so thank you to all the other staff members I work with and all of the students in my school,” he said. “I truly believe that I work at the best school in our nation and I love coming to school every day with you all.”

The event marked Kinney’s first school visit following her recent appointment as interim commissioner.

Baker graduated from Western Kentucky University with a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2017 and is currently working on a master’s in teacher leadership.

Jennings Creek is one of 15 elementary schools in the Warren County school district. It serves 746 students from kindergarten through 6th grade. The school prides itself on its diversity – more than half of their students speak English as a second language. Last school year, 27 different countries were represented in the school’s enrollment.

Coleman said she was excited to join in celebrating Baker. She described some of the qualities that make him a special teacher.

“Mr. Baker’s dedication to the field of teaching is evident in his daily actions,” she said. “He consistently goes above and beyond to create innovative methods of student learning, ensuring that his classroom is a place where every student, regardless of their abilities, feels not just included, but genuinely valued.

“One of Mr. Baker’s standout qualities is the warm and welcoming atmosphere he cultivates within his classroom. It’s this very ambiance that makes his class a haven for students looking to learn and grow.”

As an EdTech Ambassador for the school district, Baker effectively incorporates technology into his project-based learning curriculum, adeptly adjusting for each student’s unique needs throughout the school year.

“At early ages, Shane Baker is turning students into tech stars, equipping them with the skills they need to excel in today’s complex, digital world,” said Foley, who is a 1994 Milken Educator herself from Indiana. “Shane’s leadership in project-based learning fosters creativity, collaboration, and innovation in his classroom and beyond. I look forward to the expertise he will bring to our national Milken Educator Network.”

A small group of smiling people stand in a gym holding a large, ceremonial check.

Warren County 3rd-grade teacher Shane Baker received an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize when he was named a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award winner on Oct. 26. Presenting him with the check are, from left, Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Jane Foley; Jennings Creek Elementary School Principal Cody Rich; recipient Baker; Kentucky Interim Commissioner of Education Robin Fields Kinney; Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman; and Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton. Photo courtesy of the Milken Family Foundation

Baker’s enthusiasm for learning extends beyond the expected responsibilities of the classroom. His students regularly find him at the school block parties, serving food or leading the games, acting out skits during the school’s annual Literacy Night or participating in choral reading with his students in class. He is a Google Certified Educator, volunteered to teach in the school’s “Virtual Academy” during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and served on the site-based decision making council. 

His colleagues often find him at school well before the first bell rings, creating videos for his lesson plans or refining individualized instruction plans.

“It is teachers like Mr. Baker who are helping us move forward with our United We Learn vision to provide vibrant learning experiences for our students,” Kinney said. “By using technology, like his green screen project, he helps students understand and solve their school and community needs by providing an engaging avenue for student collaboration and curiosity.”

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.