MONTICELLO -- A Drew County educator received a big surprise Thursday morning, when she was presented with the "Oscar" of teaching awards by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
More than 500 elementary students and more than 40 of their teachers gathered inside the Drew Central gymnasium to welcome Sanders and the Milken Family Foundation for the 2022-23 Milken Educator Award, which was presented to elementary teacher Emily Howard.
Drew Central School Superintendent Kimbraly Barnes launched the festivities introducing Arkansas' new Secretary of Education, Jacob Oliva. In typical personable and enthusiastic manner, he stepped to the podium saying, "Good morning boys and girls," to which he was greeted with a boisterous "Good morning!" in return.
Only recently relocated from Florida, he stated, "I'm new to Arkansas so its exciting to have the opportunity to visit a fine school like yours. I work with over 450,000 students across the state just like you. I was told this is the best school in Arkansas. Is that true?" His query was met with another round of enthusiastic student response to the affirmative.
Introducing the day's special guest, Oliva said, "I get to work for a great boss who has a very important job, she oversees the entire state."
With that, Sanders took the mic. She began, "I have three kids, ages 3, 9 and 7. I must say you guys are better behaved than they are. You must really have some amazing teachers." She went on to express how everyone was gathered today to recognize and honor them for the outstanding work they do.
Sanders said, "I will keep it brief because my son George reminded me, 'Please keep it short Mom cause nobody likes those big, long, boring speeches.'"
Further telling how her children help keep her humble, she shared that 10-year-old daughter Scarlett recently spent all day getting prettied up like a princess for her father/daughter dance. When the governor told her how beautiful she looked, Scarlett replied, "Its OK, Mommy. One day you can be pretty too."
Sanders concluded, "We've spent the last several weeks working on education in Arkansas. Every decision I make as governor affects not only my kids but every child in our state."
The governor was followed by Dr. Joshua Barnett representing the Milken Family Foundation as CEO of the National Institute of Excellence in Teaching.
He said, "I'm really excited to be here at Drew Central. I go all around the country and I can say from experience, this is a very impressive school. I arrived in Arkansas from Phoenix, Arizona, last night with a big secret I'd like to share."
The recipient of the award was kept entirely secret right up until the moment of being revealed to the assembly.
"We give awards to people for sports, arts, entertainment and every other thing but what is the one thing most important of all that seems to get overlooked," he asked? Barnett went on to explain how 35 years ago in 1987, Lowell Milken established the Milken Educator awards to recognize teaching excellence and to inspire both students and teachers alike about the importance of joining the teaching profession.
Barnett stated, "The recipient of this award becomes part of a nationwide, all-star team of educators as well as receiving an all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles, California, to meet with other of this year's honorees. And by no means least, a special $25,000 financial prize."
Without further ado, Howard was announced as the only Milken Award recipient from Arkansas for the year and the first ever from Drew Central.
In a press statement, Barnett said, "In just six years as an educator, Emily Howard has demonstrated outstanding dedication to her craft, increasing student achievement and uplifting her peers.
"Emily understands the unique educational needs of a rural community and works daily to strengthen the collective role of students, educators, parents and community members in building a culture of growth."
In addition to the day's celebration, Howard will receive lifelong benefits as a member of the national Milken Educator network made up of more than 2,900 outstanding kindergarten through 12th grade teachers from across the country. The idea behind the upcoming Los Angeles trip is for some 40 outstanding teachers from across the country who are this year's recipients to share their teaching techniques and secrets to carry back home in an effort to more greatly enhance education on a local level.
After overcoming the initial shock and surprise of the impressive award, Howard said, "You boys and girls are so special to me. I just want to say thank you and you guys are the greatest school anywhere."
She added, "For us to get this recognition and for people to say our kiddos have some of the best educators in Arkansas is an outstanding honor. Being a teacher is hard work and I'm so thankful to my husband, our kids and the love of the Lord for blessing our efforts."
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected. An earlier version misspelled Kimbraly Barnes' name and misidentified the name of the person who established the Milken Educator Awards. That person is Lowell Milken.