No doubt, Luis Espinosa, who leads the Aeronautics STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math) Magnet and LEEO (Linking Education and Employment Opportunities) programs at Apollo Middle School in Hollywood, Florida, was excited that Florida’s Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart and Superintendent Robert W. Runcie were participating in a school-wide event to recognize the achievements of those two programs. Yet, Espinosa had no inkling that the assembly’s spotlight was about to focus on him.
Before more than 450 cheering students, colleagues and dignitaries, Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Mike Milken and Commissioner Stewart presented Espinosa with a Milken Educator Award
, which includes an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000. In a moment’s time, this outstanding educator experienced the fanfare typically reserved for all-star athletes and award-winning entertainers.
“This prestigious award represents an incredible accomplishment for Mr. Espinosa and is a testament to his dedication to students,” said Superintendent Runcie. “Not only is he a role model for teachers in Broward County, but also across the country. I congratulate him for this honor and thank the Milken Family Foundation for its support of our outstanding teachers.”
“Teachers hold the keys to success for our children,” said Commissioner Pam Stewart. “A skilled and motivated teacher can open the door to a limitless world of learning. I am pleased to join the generous Milken Family Foundation in honoring one of Florida’s top educators for his creativity and enthusiasm in the classroom and beyond. Through his passion for science education, Mr. Espinosa has inspired his students to be curious about the world around them, encouraged them to learn through experimentation and trained them to think critically about problems they face. Mr. Espinosa has truly made a difference in the lives of his students and has helped each build a solid foundation for success in college, career and life.”
Hailed by Teacher Magazine
as the “Oscars of Teaching,” what separates this award from others is that the recipients have no idea they will be honored. This recognition is not a lifetime achievement award. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. Encompassed in the recognition is the responsibility for those honored to stretch their professional practices and leadership to even higher levels.
“The idea behind these Awards is that everyone likes to hand out prizes to our heroes,” said Mike Milken. “We give Grammys to musicians, gold medals to Olympians, Nobels to scientists and others. But we give too little recognition to the people with society’s most important job – educators. Nothing assures the success of a nation more than education; and nothing assures the quality of education more than dedicated classroom teachers instilling a love of learning and sense of wonder in their students.”
About Mr. Espinosa:
Luis Espinosa is a science and STEM education powerhouse who as lead teacher and department chair sets Apollo Middle School students on a path for 21st
century success. Known as a trailblazer, Espinosa heads Florida’s first middle school industry certification program known as LEEO, a middle school industry certification program and the first in the state. Specialized science labs incorporate technologies and strategies that bridge the gap between science, technology and the arts. Colleagues point to Espinosa’s ability to inspire both peers and students to think outside the box – a much bandied-about phrase, but Espinosa is an example of what it truly means. He holds science enrichment sessions in the morning before school and draws students into this field of study who did not think they would ever be interested in knowing more. Because of his unique ability to engage young teens, other educators turn to Espinosa to learn valuable best practices in teaching.
Adept at reaching students of all abilities and interests, Espinosa involves parents in the learning equation. The family science night he organizes attracts more than 300 families. Not only have the school’s FCAT scores increased over the years, but Espinosa’s work has helped lead the department to record increases for the eighth grade. Over the last four years, school officials report that formerly “C” students have consistently advanced to become “A” students under Espinosa’s guidance. In addition, his support for reading and writing across the science curriculum has been credited with raising student vocabulary scores.
In 2010, Apollo Middle School was designated as an Aeronautics STEM Magnet program and was tasked with creating a rigorous curriculum to support the effort. In addition to serving as the point person for the STEM curriculum team, Espinosa enlisted the help of other top-notch teachers and university professors from Florida Atlantic University to help develop an inquiry-based science curriculum. Former students credit their success in high school AP science and honors courses to the foundation Espinosa built during their middle school experience.
Beyond the classroom, Espinosa envisioned an outdoor learning center to honor two deceased members of the school's community. The Daniel Torres and Greg Ashley STEM in the Gardens Learning Center is made up of gardens that produce crops, while a $95,000 grant secured by Espinosa added an indoor botany learning lab equipped with computers and microscopes, as well as a chess area and butterfly garden with a solar-powered fountain. Inside or out of the classroom, Luis Espinosa is a catalyst for growth in Broward County.
Espinosa’s Milken Educator Awards story does not end with his surprise notification. New recipients are invited to join the Milken Educator Network, a group of distinguished educators coast-to-coast whose expertise serves as a valuable resource to fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others shaping the future of education.
Since first presented to a dozen California teachers, the program has grown to become the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program having honored nearly 2,600 K-12 teachers, principals and specialists. More than $136 million in funding, including more than $64 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers. From local to state to national and even international levels, the exponential impact of Milken Educators strengthens American K-12 education.
Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the awards are sourced through each participating state department of education, which appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to confidentially review candidates for recommendation to the Foundation.
Candidates for the Milken Educator Awards are selected on the basis of the following criteria:
Exceptional educational talent as evidenced by effective instructional practices and student learning results in the classroom and school;
Exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession;
Individuals whose contributions to education are largely unheralded yet worthy of the spotlight;
Early- to mid-career educators who offer strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership; and
Engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues and the community.
Pictured above (left to right): School Board Member Ann Murray, Superintendent Robert W. Runcie, BCPS Teacher Luis Espinosa, and School Board Chair Patricia Good
For More Information:
Broward County Public Schools Website: browardschools.com
Milken Educator Awards Website: www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org
Mike Milken Website: www.mikemilken.com
Florida Department Education Website: www.fldoe.org
Milken Family Foundation Website: www.mff.org
Follow the Milken Educator Awards at www.twitter.com/milken
and at www.youtube.com/milkenaward