Gresham High School teacher and PSU alum wins 'Oscar of Teaching'
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: December 11, 2019

Gresham High School teacher Julie Rowell attended an assembly this Tuesday that she thought was an educational event led by Oregon Department of Education—but she didn’t know she was the real reason for the gathering.

The Portland State University alumna soon found out that not only were dozens of students and colleagues there to honor her, but that she had won “the Oscar of Teaching,” a Milken Educator Award.

“I was shocked,” Rowell said. “I felt like I was in a bit of a dream. I really had no idea. Somebody asked me, ‘Did you apply for this?’ And I said, ‘What? No.’”

Educators don’t apply and are unaware they are under consideration for the Milken Educator Award, pioneered in Santa Monica, California in 1987. State departments of education appoint panels to choose the candidates, which the Milken Family Foundation approves. Milken Educator Awards Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher and Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill presented the award to Rowell.

“I’m honored, I’m flattered, and I’m proud,” Rowell said, “and I hope that the award feels like a recognition of our school and our district and maybe puts us on the map in that way because we have a lot of great things happening at our high school.”

Rowell is one of only 26 teachers in the nation this year to receive the award. An initiative of the nonprofit Milken Family Foundation, the award comes with a $25,000 unrestricted prize and is for early- to mid-year professionals who have already shown great promise. Rowell showed particular promise in her work expanding student achievement and opening up opportunities for her students.

“I feel I can only do what I do in the classroom because my students (current and past) are truly invested in their learning and future opportunities," she said. "They care. They deserve to be recognized for their determination as well."

Rowell's three roles at Gresham High are: an Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) teacher; a secondary-level English Language Learner (ELL) teacher; and a Teacher on Special Assignment for secondary schools, teaching other educators how to teach ELL.

She has been a teacher since 2005, after graduating from the PSU College of Education’s Bilingual Teacher Pathway. A Spanish-English bilingual speaker, she earned a Master of Education, with Spanish as her specialization.

Rowell said that PSU had a strong effect on how she teaches. She recalls an influential classroom management class.

“It taught me the art and science of teaching in the classroom, so I still carry with me some of the things I learned in that class like how to talk to a student when a student’s behavior might be distracting the class,” she said. The teacher “had approaches that treated students with dignity when you’re trying to redirect them and get back them back into learning.”

She also remembers a diversity class at PSU that showed her how her own preconceived notions can affect interactions. She said that she learned not simply to respect people of different cultures and backgrounds, but that she can learn so much from everyone.

“It opened my eyes,” she said.

Photos Courtesy of Milken Family Foundation:

Top: Julie Rowell, left, reacts to hearing the news about her Milken Educator Award on Tuesday. On Rowell's right is Amari Thomas, the school's attendance liaison.

Bottom: Julie Rowell beams after receiving "the Oscar of Teaching."

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