Amina Kahn | LA Times LA NOW blog
November 4, 2009 | 2:03 pm
Roberto Gonzalez of Virgil Middle School and Ana Higuera of Lynwood High School were stunned when Milken Family Foundation Chairman Lowell Milken announced at each campus that they had received the annual award, which comes with a $25,000 no-strings cash prize.
Like all the other teachers and students who piled into Virgil’s auditorium this morning, Gonzalez thought the assembly’s star speaker would be State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, who had ostensibly come to congratulate the school for its marked academic improvement in the last few years. Last year, Virgil’s Academic Performance Index, based on test scores, shot up 56 points to 641.
“We don’t recognize our hard-working teachers enough,” O’Connell said. “Entertainers have the Academy Awards, the Emmys … this is our recognition.”
Milken said the award is meant to encourage beginning and mid-career teachers in whom they see great potential. The financial award is meant to reward teachers, “who often have to make financial sacrifices” for their chosen career, he said.This year, the foundation will be awarding 54 educators across the United States for exceptional work.
Gonzalez, 28, was chosen for his work combating high teacher turnover and encouraging his students to aim for college degrees, not just high school diplomas.
The science teacher’s voice shook as he thanked his fellow teachers and school administrators for the support they had provided over his seven years at the school.
“I’m sorry I’m crying, because it’s not a good look,” Gonzalez apologized, and the students exploded into cheers.
Higuera also said she was in “complete shock” when Milken awarded her the giant check a little after noon today. Higuera, 33, was also recognized for her work with “mid-level” students who often miss the college-preparatory track.
“I graduated from Lynwood myself so I connect to students,” Higuera said. “I was the first in my family to graduate college. I had no one to guide me – that’s one of the reasons I became a teacher.”
Photo: Roberto Gonzalez is surrounded by his students after receiving Milken Family Foundation Award at Virgil Middle School. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)