Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity Fellow Wins Milken Educator Award

Feb 27, 2020 | College News

Shalisha Thomas walks to podium, Milken Award
Shalisha Thomas, an art teacher at Pine Bluff High School, needed a few moments to compose herself after hearing her name called.

Thomas received the news that she was Arkansas’ 2019-20 Milken Educator Award winner at an all-school assembly earlier this month. Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key was visiting under the guise of commending the high school’s innovative fine arts program. But the event took an unexpected turn when Key and Greg Gallagher, senior program director for the Milken Family Foundation, surprised Thomas.

Often called the “Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken Educator Awards celebrate the American teaching profession.

Thomas is the only recipient from Arkansas for the 2019-20 school year. She’s also one of only 40 educators nationwide to receive the recognition this season.

She was overwhelmed with emotion as she made her way to the front of the room to accept the prestigious national award, which includes a $25,000 prize.

Thomas, who teaches grades 10-12, said at the assembly, “Not every student we teach will go into art, but if you love video games, fashion design, even painting cars, all of that goes back to art. I think it’s important for students to understand and appreciate how art impacts every facet of life.”

Shalisha Thomas, Milken, with big check

ThomasĀ is one of 59 Arkansas Academy for Educational Equity (AAEE) Fellows working in over 20 districts and 30 schools across the state. The AAEE was made possible by a collaboration between the College of Education and Health Professions at the U of A and the Walton Family Foundation through a $10 million gift. It is focused on recruiting talented and motivated teachers to relocate to Arkansas. It also aims to support, retain and develop early-career teachers focused on equity.

Thomas is enrolled in the master’s degree program in Educational Equity. As an AAEE Fellow, she receives personalized instructional coaching, real-time feedback and quarterly professional development from Lizette Burks, her assigned content director.

Burks said, “Shalisha has a strong command of art education content and wants to work toward meeting the needs of all her students.”

Eric Mayes, Executive Director of the academy, said Thomas is the type of teacher the academy is designed to support.

“We are proud to call her one of our own and look forward to continuing to support her in her work engaging and empowering students throughout the Pine Bluff School District,” he said.

Young artists are learning more than painting, drawing and sculpting in Thomas’ classes. Last year, she partnered with the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas to display a collection of student work that rivaled exhibits in big cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Thomas also works with her colleagues in math, ELA and other core subjects to align her lesson plans to academic standards and objectives.

Thomas is seen as a positive role model, especially among Pine Bluff’s young women of color, and she helps students consider a variety of career paths.

Along with the cash prize, Thomas will join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 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.

The 2019-20 honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis March 26-28, 2020, where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education. In addition, the Milken Educator Awards’ “Why Not Us” program will pair each 2019-2020 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy.

Shalisha Thomas, Milken Educator

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