West High teacher wins Milken award

Tracy Haun OwensWest Knox

Internationally known philanthropist Lowell Milken visited West High School to praise its students, teachers, and principal. He did not arrive empty-handed. To great fanfare – and with no advance notice to her – Milken presented AP government teacher Paula Franklin with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award.


View video of the moment here.

Milken presented the award at a school-wide assembly on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 16. It has been referred to by some as “the Oscar of teaching.”

A visibly shaken Franklin accepted to the stomping of students and cries of “We love you, Ms. Franklin.” Noting her accomplishments, which include doubling enrollment in her subject since she began teaching it, Milken said to her, “We believe that you have the potential to accomplish far greater things. You will influence thousands of lives. Thank you for making education your chosen profession.”

The Milken Family Foundation began presenting the Milken Educator Awards 30 years ago as a way to encourage good teaching and encourage students to go into the profession. Teachers can’t be nominated, or apply for the award. There are no restrictions to its use. The foundation has shared $68 million in individual prizes since the program’s inception.

Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, philanthropist Lowell Milken, and past Milken Educator Award winner Donna Mara Hardy at West High School

This is actually the second time a West High School teacher has been recognized. AP history teacher Lou Gallo, whom Franklin described as her mentor, was granted the award in 2003.

“It’s very rare for us to return to a school,” Milken said.

West High School principal Ashley Jessie was thrilled to have the school and her teacher recognized.

Philanthropist Milken and members of his foundation staff were accompanied by a host of dignitaries, including Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen and Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas.

McQueen spoke to the students about the importance of teachers not only in academics, but also in making a school feel like a team. She introduced Milken as someone who gives his considerable resources, including his time and energy, to education.

Milken said honoring educators makes good sense to him. “As a society, we ask our teachers and principals to prepare every one of you for a bright future,” he said to the assembled students. “We do so little to recognize, celebrate or honor them.”

Franklin is one of 44 educators nationwide who will be honored this year. She heard from some of those who had won the award in the past, including former Bearden Middle School educator Donna Mara Hardy, who won the award in 1993 and has been part of the Milken educational “family” since.

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