Johnson County teacher surprised with $25,000 award

Photo By Dept of Education

Edna Miller stands in shock while being surprised on Monday with the Milken Family Foundation's Nathional Educator Award.

    By Lesley Hughes
star staff

  A local educator was surprised by local leaders, state representatives, and co-workers on Monday with the Milken Family Foundation's National Educator Award. In addition to receiving one of the top honors for her field, Edna Miller from Johnson County Schools was awarded $25,000.
  "Teachers are among our nation's most influential professionals, yet you'll never see them on an awards show," said Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Lana Seivers. "Presenting this award is one of my favorite things to do as commissioner. They've earned it for all of the great work that they do, and we thank them for their contributions to the lives of children."
  Edna Miller is the Literacy Leader for Roan Creek Elementary School in Johnson County. A 12-year veteran, Edna created "Ms. Rita Lott," a costumed character who encourages students to read more. She frequently eats and reads with students during "literacy lunches," and actively involves the community by publishing a newsletter to encourage family readings. As a result, students in her program consistently score higher on standardized tests. Edna has been named teacher of the year in her building and was a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society in 1999.
  As the first teacher ever to receive the award in the school system, Miller still sounds shocked and elated a day after learning of her award. "I have never had so much attention," she said. Director of Johnson County Schools, Minnie Miller, informed the school last week that Seivers would be visiting on Monday, but disguised the situation as a routine visit to discuss a grant that was awarded over two years ago.
  Over 500 students gathered in an assembly yesterday to greet Seivers. Ten students were selected to participate in an activity. Students revealed placards with numbers. Seivers moved the children to reveal first the number 250, then 2,500, and then 25,000. Throughout the numerical revelation, Seivers explained the activity and said that the award would be given to a teacher. In Ed McMahan-like fashion, an oversized check was displayed with Edna Miller's name and $25,000 typed in the dollar line.
  Edna Miller said during the explanation of the award that she was excited for the teacher who would receive it, and "then she (Seivers) called my name. I was excited, nervous and scared." When her name was announced, she cried. Her family was even tricked into coming to the school by Minnie Miller's assistant director. After the award was presented, Minnie Miller said, "I don't believe there was a dry eye in the place."
  Minnie Miller said, "I am really proud of Edna Miller. She's a wonderful teacher and she is very deserving of this award. She is a representation of all the teachers who change the lives of kids for the better. This brings positive recognition to herself, the school, and the school system. It is thrilling to have the Milken (Family Foundation's National Educator) Award presented to someone in our school system."
  Roan Creek Elementary Principal Margaret Wallace praised Miller's efforts as Roan Creek Elementary's Literacy Leader, describing her as a "talented, creative teacher. She is truly deserving of the honor."
  The $25,000 is Miller's to spend any way she pleases, but it has been earmarked for her nine-year-old daughter's college education. However, one student told Miller, "I think you should go to Wal-Mart."
  The costumed character, "Ms. Rita Lott," teaches children that reading is fun. Wallace described Miller's character as a "big girl in a little girl's costume." She wears a red dress, white tights, fake hair, and dresses her face up "like a doll." She uses a little girls' voice to read the books that she carries on her belt. The belt is used to symbolize that any time "Ms. Rita Lott" is bored, she picks out a book and it takes her somewhere else.
  Edna Miller said her fellow educators have "been very supportive of me. They help me do so many things I could not do on my own."
  The Milken National Educator Awards were created in 1985 to reward, retain, and attract the highest caliber of professionals to the nation's schools. Over 2,000 educators from across the United States have been recognized for outstanding service since the program's inception. The Milken National Educator Award evaluates teachers on a wide variety of criteria, including outstanding instructional practices, long range potential for professional leadership, and the ability to engage and inspire students as a positive and motivating force.
  This year's teachers received an unrestricted financial award of $25,000 and an all expense paid trip to Washington D.C. to participate in the Milken National Education Conference in May 2005. For questions regarding the Milken National Educator Awards please visit