Deerfield School teacher Tom Christie had never heard of the Milken family before Thursday, but he has taken an immediate liking to them.
During a surprise visit to Christie's classroom Thursday, state education officials told the teacher he had received a $25,000 national educator award from the Milken Family Foundation. Christie also won a huge round of applause from his students when the award was announced.
It was an emotional moment for Christie, who was at a loss for words when he was given an enlarged facsimile of the $25,000 check he will receive in March.
"I'm surprised. I'm shocked," Christie said moments later. "I'd never heard of the award and didn't know I was nominated. I was totally surprised."
The Milken Family Foundation is a private philanthropic institution that works to "discover and advance inventive ways to build human resources." Among other goals, the foundation seeks to reward educational innovators who involve the community and offer opportunities to disadvantaged students.
A TOTAL of 140 Kansas educators were nominated for the award, and Christie is one of four Kansas teachers to receive it. Two Kansas principals also were chosen.
Lee Droegemueller, commissioner of the Kansas Board of Education, told Christie the award was in recognition of his "innovation and leadership in the classroom" and his "motivation of others . . . the students especially."
Lawrence School Board President Barbara Ballard, who was on hand for the surprise announcement, said, "It's exciting, and he really is an excellent role model. He's the kind of teacher I think we'd like all our children to have."
Others on hand for the award presentation, which state officials had managed to keep secret from nearly everyone, were Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis, state Board of Education member Paul Adams, state Rep. Sandy Praeger, Lawrence School Supt. Al Azinger and Deerfield Principal Suzie Soyster.
In describing his teaching style, Christie said, "I'm just concerned that the kids be an active part of the learning process," adding that he hopes to "make them better citizens and have them do realistic activities."
IT WAS JUST last week that Christie learned he had received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching. Christie, who teaches science to fifth- and sixth-graders, was the only elementary science teacher in Kansas to receive the award.
Christie said the presidential award alone was overwhelming. Just to make sure his presidential award is for real, "I still get the presidential letter out once or twice a day to read it," Christie said.
The presidential award came with a $7,500 stipend to be used for science education. Christie said he might divide the $7,500 into smaller grants that several Lawrence teachers could use to improve science education in their classrooms.
Christie said he hadn't yet decided what he would do with the unrestricted $25,000 from the Milken award. The Milken Family Foundation will invite award winners to a three-day education symposium in California in March, and the $25,000 awards will be presented at that time.
BONNIE DUNHAM, the district's communications coordinator, said the district had submitted the names of previously recognized teachers to the state with the understanding that certain teachers would be chosen for a state "talent pool" to take part in various committees.
However, the information actually was used by the Milken Family Foundation to help in the selection of award winners.
Christie started at Deerfield in 1974. He quit teaching in 1977 to become a career education coordinator for the district, but he returned to Deerfield in 1980 and has been there ever since.
Christie, who also teaches health to his students, received the Kansas Medical Society's Award of Excellence in 1991. He was one of seven Kansas Master Teachers in 1990, and he was named an Outstanding Young Man in America in 1979.
Christie, 40, has earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in education, all from Kansas University.