Ocean County Teacher Receives “Oscar Of Teaching” Award

Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley, left, joins this year’s Milken Educator Awards winner Jackson second grade Elms teacher Shaina Brenner, center, during a visit by State Commissioner of Education Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, at right, during a recent school assembly. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  JACKSON – She may not be an actress or film director but an Elms Elementary School teacher recently won the “Oscar” in education for her innovative ideas in teaching.

  Shaina Brenner received the surprise of a lifetime and an unrestricted $25,000 Milken Educator Award during a recent visit to her school by State Commissioner of Education Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan.

  The commissioner’s visit to the Elms Elementary School provided a lot of excitement for students, staff, Board of Education members and public officials. Former award winners were also on hand to welcome the second-grade educator to the fold.

Elms School Second Grade teacher Shaina Brenner, left, shows her shock and surprise of winning the “Oscar” of education Milken Educator Awards program during a school assembly held at the school. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley, a 1994 Indiana Milken Educator, joined Commissioner McMillian in recognizing Brenner’s work as a model for the state and nation.

  “Shaina Brenner personifies the qualities of a Milken Educator. She prioritizes her students’ needs and develops creative strategies to engage and prepare them for success in our rapidly changing world. Her dedication to improving the lives of her students, her passion for her community and her proven track record of leadership are just some of the many reasons she was honored,” Dr. Foley said.

  Brenner was sitting in the bleachers of the Elms school gymnasium beside her 22 students, totally oblivious to the announcement to come following comments by the Commissioner and Foley. She broke out in tears of joy as Foley approached and named her as the recipient of the $25,000 Milken Educator Award, described as an Oscar of teaching.

  “The Department congratulates Ms. Brenner on this outstanding career achievement,” the Commissioner of Education said. “Her zest for teaching and understanding of the learning needs of each child is a gift to her students and an inspiration to fellow educators.”

  Students, appreciative colleagues, local dignitaries and administrators cheered Brenner during the schoolwide assembly. She was the subject of a prior Jackson Times article earlier this year about Elms being named a National Green Ribbon School and her work in forming the school’s student “Green Team.”

Elms School Second Grade teacher Shaina Brenner, left, joins her students following her naming as this year’s Milken Educator Awards winner during an assembly at the Elms Elementary School. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  Brenner’s passion for the environment and conservation was noted when she spearheaded a new recycling initiative, acquired recycling bins for every classroom and created signage to show which materials can and cannot be recycled. Her Green Team focused on improving the school’s environmental policies, including gardening, recycling and conservation.

  Brenner noted that at the start of her career, “I had so many folks that helped me. Finding a mentor is important. Seek out those educators who are doing great and let them rub off on you.”

  After receiving this award, she said, “sometimes you might feel like that nobody is noticing what you do and this really shows that what I am doing in life was meant to be. Even at times when we think no one is paying attention, there are people who are.”

  Of the many programs she has initiated in the school, Brenner said the one she was most satisfied seeing grow and evolve was, “the Green Team and everything that came forward with our Green Team in the last year which helped us get the Green Ribbon Award.”

  “We kickstarted a lot of different initiatives last year. One was energy conservation. We literally worked from the ground up working with the administration, custodians, staff and students continue to revitalize a good number of those initiatives,” she said.

  She said a new project this year is a pollinator garden for the back of the school. “To see the kids really embracing everything they are doing is amazing. This year we have 18 students involved with the Green Team.”

  Brenner however wasn’t the only educator in the building from the Jackson School District that has received the prestigious Milken Educator Award. The day’s presentation was somewhat nostalgic for the district’s Director of Curriculum Theresa Licitra.

  Licitra was a reading specialist at the time on the elementary school level. She would later become the principal at Elms.  “It is quite an honor for Jackson,” she said. She won the award for her initiatives in reading and she was just as surprised to win that day as Brenner was.

  “The support you get from your colleagues, it is the team and the school, the culture and the support from the administration. It lets you shine. They see the seeds and they let you nurture it and watch it grow to make you a better teacher and a better leader. The Milken award also opens doors,” Licitra added.

State Commissioner of Education Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, left, joins Elms Elementary School Principal Michael Burgos, Elms Second Grade teacher and Milken Educator Awards winner Shaina Brenner, Superintendent Nicole Pormilli and Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  Superintendent Nicole Pormilli told The Jackson Times, “I say it all the time Jackson is an incredible place to be. Our teachers, administrators and staff are so talented and Shania is a prime example.”

  Brenner will join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

  She will also be joining other honorees at an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education.

  They will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFF) mentoring program, in which freshman Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.

  The prestigious honor is presented to up to 40 schools across the nation. More than $140 million in funding, including over $73 million in individual $25,000 Awards, has been devoted to the overall initiative, which includes powerful professional learning opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.