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Judson University Alumna Melissa Leisner Wins Milken Educator Award

(Elgin, IL - November 20, 2013) Judson University Alumna Melissa Leisner was given the Milken Educator Award in a special ceremony on Tuesday, November 19 at Prairie Knolls Middle School in Elgin, Ill. 

The Milken Educator Award, one of the highest honors in the field of education, is given to early-to-mid career education professionals in the United States for their achievements and, more significantly, for the promise of what they will accomplish in their future. Milken winners are given a $25,000 unrestricted award. It is not possible to apply or even to be nominated for the Milken National Educator Award; each recipient is chosen based on their reputation within their school, district, and state education systems, as well as the performance level of their students through state testing.

"At the Milken Family Foundation (MFF), we believe that teachers have the most important job in society because they educate all of society," says Dr. Jane Foley, Senior Vice President of the Milken Educator Awards. "Teachers teach all the people that receive other high accolades, like the Nobel Prizes and Academy Awards and athletic championships, but until MFF came along, these teachers were never awarded for this important job. One teacher has the career to change thousands of lives in the course of their career, so they should be celebrated."

Foley presented the award to Leisner a surprise, all-school assembly, with several dignitaries in attendance including Illinois State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch; Community Unit School District 301 Superintendent Todd Stirn; District 301 Assistant Superintendent Esther Martin; state Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley); Laura Helsper, District 301 teacher and president of the district teachers association; the District 301 school board; Elgin Community College President David Sam; and District 301 principals.

"Prairie Knolls is one of the best schools in the state of Illinois, and Prairie Knolls haMelissa Leisners one of the best teachers in the country: Melissa Leisner," said Foley as she presented Leisner with the award.

"I am shocked and honored to be chosen for this," said Leisner in her acceptance speech. "I just absolutely love what I do."

Leisner, a seventh-grade Language Arts teacher at Prairie Knolls Middle School, is passionate about literacy. Her "YA Café," in which staff come to read a book aloud and discuss it with the students, became a permanent program handled by the school’s library media specialist. Her efforts to tailor her curricula to the needs of each student have paid off both in school-wide enthusiasm and her students' test scores. Overall, 65% of her students reach mid-high to high level of achievement as measured by NWEA-MAP testing. Leisner is influential among her fellow educators as well: she started a book club for language arts teachers, and she lends her leadership in literacy to numerous committees including the district's language arts curriculum team, where she has been instrumental in writing curriculum and assessments and articulating needs for her grade level in reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Leisner, who earned her Master of Literacy in Education from Judson in 2011, is Judson University's third graduate to receive a Milken Educator Award, including Tammy Range Alexander '81 and Dr. Steve Layne, a 1987 alumnus and professor in Judson's School of Education.

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