The $25,000 surprise was written all over Julie Wojcicki-Cleave’s face.
Sitting in a school assembly on Thursday, the Hallman Elementary School teacher thought state officials had stopped by for a political appearance.
Then Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, told a gym packed with hundreds of students that a teacher in the room would receive a financial prize.
Students held up green cards with the numbers 2 and 5. The crowd cheered as each new zero eventually spelled out $25,000.
“We have an individual to represent your excellence,” Foley said. “Do you want to know who it is?”
“Yes!,” the students replied in unison.
When Foley announced Wojcicki-Cleave’s name, tears began to well in the first-grade teacher’s eyes as she walked to accept a large check for $25,000.
Started in 1987, the Milken Educator Award honors early-to-mid career educators for their teaching excellence.
“When it was me, I was just overwhelmed. I can’t explain the feeling. I feel overly appreciated for the work that I do,” Wojcicki-Cleave said in an interview after the presentation.
A graduate of Western Oregon University, she has been teaching at Hallman Elementary School for 11 years.
She is among 40 recipients this school year that will receive the national award and the only one in Oregon.
Foley said that Wojcicki-Cleave was chosen for the award because of her innovative teaching practices such as using a workshop model in the classroom. About 74 percent of Hallman Elementary students are also eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches, meaning they may be less ready to learn than average students.
“She has amazing results,” Foley said. “Her kids are coming in a catch-up year, and they are making more gains in achievement with her. She’s a leader in the school.”
Asked what she would do with the money, Wojcicki-Cleave mentioned that she just bought a new car and have a new baby in the family but that she also plans to save it.
“I think (teachers) all work really hard and aren’t being recognized enough,” she said. “It’s just the constant coming to work and feeling like you’re making a difference.”
by Queenie Wong