And the ‘Oscar of Teaching’ goes to Madison’s Allison Ruhl

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Gabriel Austin, Mississippi Today

Dr. Jane Foley, left, Dr. Carey Wright, Allison Ruhl, Deborah Bryant and Gov. Phil Bryant after Ruhl was presented a $25,000 award from the Milken Family Foundation.

It’s Oscar season not only in Hollywood but also in Madison County.

Allison Ruhl, a first-grade teacher at Madison Station Elementary School, was surprised Wednesday morning with an unrestricted $25,000 award dubbed the “Oscars of Teaching.”

Gov. Phil Bryant and First Lady Deborah Bryant surprised Ruhl in a school assembly with the Milken Family Foundation’s Educator Award for the 2016-2017 school year.

Ruhl is the only teacher in Mississippi to receive the award this year; she is among 35 teachers selected nationally. The Milken Family Foundation has sponsored the award for 30 years, giving out $68 million.

Milken Family Foundation

Allison Ruhl, first-grade teacher at Madison Station Elementary School.

“It was an enormous shock. I have just stopped shaking,” Ruhl said moments after finding out she would receive the honor. “I’m usually pretty calm, cool and collected, so I’m finally settling down, but it was a huge surprise.”

Ruhl has been teaching for 12 years — five of them at Madison Station Elementary — and Madison Station principal Beverly Johnston says Ruhl deserves this national award.

“Ms. Ruhl has the passion to get to know her students individually, to know what they need to succeed to move to the next level. As a first-grade teacher, she gets students in that are barely able to read,” said Johnston, “and then it’s her goal by the time they exit her class to be proficient, on grade level readers, and she just works tirelessly.”

According to the Milken Family Foundation, 95% of Ruhl’s students leave her class at or above grade-level expectations in reading.

The foundation works with state departments of education to find educators who they deem worthy of the award. The selection process is kept secret until representatives of the foundation visit a selected teacher’s school.

“We look at the whole country and we look at the recommendations. Do they fit the guidelines and the criteria?” said Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley. “That’s why we’re here today, because Allison Ruhl, we believe, represents the top one percent of the profession in the whole country out of three million teachers.”

This isn’t the first time a Mississippi educator has received the award. Foley says 71 educators in Mississippi have received the prize since the foundation began including the state in 1991.

“For Mississippi to have that honor is really just that, because not all states have a representative that’s been selected,” said state Education Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright. “I think it’s a way of just recognizing the power of this position and the power of teachers, because they are making it happen for children each and every day. And teachers don’t get a lot of recognition.”

House of Representatives Speaker Philip Gunn was also in attendance, and he hopes the national recognition for Ruhl’s success helps lift schools that aren’t rated as highly as Madison Station Elementary.

“I think this is a model,” said Gunn. “I think it bears considering how they reached this achievement and duplicating this across the state.”

Along with $25,000, Ruhl gets a membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group with more than 2,700 principals, teachers and specialists.