Providence ESL teacher named 2018 Milken Educator

PROVIDENCE – In its 31st iteration of the Educator award, the Milken Family Foundation has awarded a $25,000 award to Michelle Johnson in recognition for the achievements she has made in teaching English as a second language to grade-school students in the capital city.

Educated in Rhode Island, Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in teaching English as a second language from Rhode Island College.

Johnson is the third recipient to be named in the 2018-19 Milken Family Foundation award cycle. She is the sole Rhode Island recipient and, once completed, will be one of up to 40 recipients of what is sometimes called the “Oscars of Teaching.”

“At a time when our state’s population of English Learners continues to grow, we need EL teacher leaders like Johnson,” said R.I. Department of Education Commissioner Ken Wagner in a statement. “She celebrates her students, engages her families, and creates a classroom environment that both supports and challenges her students.”

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A third-grade teacher at Mary E. Fogarty Elementary School in Providence, Johnson’s students hail from a multitude of backgrounds and speak eight languages.

Each of Johnson’s 26 students entered her classroom at the start of the 2017-2018 academic year with less-than-stellar reading and math skills. By the end of the year, each of her students had grade-level reading proficiency – with 40 percent exceeding that mark – and math scores jumped 67 percent.

And her teaching is not only focused on the children, but on the parents of her pupils as well. Since she was hired at Fogarty, Johnson has sought parental involvement in her ESL classes hosting end-of-year pizza parties and get togethers to foster a sense of belonging.

“Michelle Johnson has the whole package – the skills, energy and dedication to engage students and inspire them to grow,” said Christopher N. Maher, superintendent Providence Public Schools, in prepared remarks. “Her positive impact has spread beyond her classroom to reach the entire Fogarty school community. Parents celebrate her, students emulate her and we all admire her. She is the best of her profession.”

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for their achievements and the promise of what they will accomplish in the future. Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, educators cannot apply for the honor rather they are sourced through a confidential selection process and reviewed by panelists appointed by state departments of education with final approval granted by the Milken Family Foundation.

In addition to the $25,000 unrestricted gift from the Santa Monica-based organization, 2018-19 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., from March 21 to 24 where they will have the opportunity to network with other recipients and hear from state and federal officials about maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

Johnson, and her fellow Milken Educator award recipients, will also gain membership in the National Milken Educator Network which already boasts participation or more than 2,700 teachers, principals and specialists.

Educators from Coventry and Providence were recognized in the 2017 and 2016 Milken Educator award cycles, respectively.

To-date, more than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the awards initiative.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email,