Representatives from the Milken Family Foundation (MFF) and the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) honored Dr. Melody Tucker as the 2015-16 Alabama Milken Educator on Tuesday, an award described as “the Oscars of teaching.”
Dr. Tucker works at Citronelle High School in the Mobile County Public Schools system, where she teaches science in Grades 9-12 — spanning everything from regular, honors and Advanced placement courses in multiple subjects.
“Melody Tucker is a STEM leader who instills in her students an appreciation for the sciences and inspires them to excel long after they have left her class,” said Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards. “Colleagues from the school, district and beyond have also drawn on her expertise, broadening Melody’s impact. We are pleased to honor her work with a Milken Educator Award and look forward to following her contributions to education for years to come.”
The prestigious honor, which was launched by MFF in 1987, has put more than $66 million in teachers’ hands through these in individual awards. This year, Tucker — Alabama’s 33rd Milken Educator Award winner since 1998 — received $25,000.
One of the unique things about the Milken Educator Award is that teachers are not nominated and can’t apply for the distinction. As a result, the award is a complete surprise to teachers. At CHS, even the school staff was unaware of Tucker’s award until it was announced on Tuesday.“I’m very surprised. I didn’t know anything about it,” Tucker said after realizing why the assembly had been called. “I’m glad, not only that I’m receiving this award, but that Citronelle High School is getting so much recognition because this is a wonderful school with wonderful students.”
To maintain the surprise, the ALSDE pretended State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice was coming to Mobile County for a regular address to the school system. Instead, when Bice took the stage he talked about Tucker’s contribution to local students in Mobile County through her “high enthusiasm and creative instruction.”
“This tremendous honor is greatly deserved by Dr. Tucker,” Bice said. “Her devotion to students matched with her innovative teaching methods creates a great combination ensuring success from her students. We are grateful to have her as an Alabama educator.”
Her colleagues at CHS said Tucker “creates a college atmosphere in the classroom,” using innovative, project-based instructional techniques to engage her students. According to the ALSDE, Tucker’s students have maintained a 93 percent passing rate at CHS, which is considered a high-poverty school.
In addition to her everyday work in the classroom, Tucker was praised on Tuesday for working through online programs such as Moodle, GradPoint and ACCESS to help students stay on track with assignments when they have to miss school.
“It is exciting to have the work of an outstanding science teacher recognized,” said MCPSS Superintendent Martha Peek. “Dr. Melody Tucker is a leading teacher who inspires and motivates students to be engaged learners in the classes she teaches. She is most deserving of this national award.”
Tucker received her Bachelor of Science in biology with a teaching certification and minor in music from the University of Mobile in 2005. She performed her graduate work in instructional design at the University of South Alabama, where she earned a Master of Education in 2008 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 2013.
New recipients are invited to join the Milken Educator Network, a group of distinguished educators coast to coast whose expertise serves as a valuable resource to fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others shaping the future of education. Recipients are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.
Tucker said her career in education was spurred by the inspiration of her teachers in middle and high school.
“I had wonderful teachers who made me love science; they made me love writing,” she said. “So I wanted to make it my lifelong goal to share my love of learning and hopefully inspire other students to have the same thing Education is a door or a window to so many opportunities that you can experience. Education is the street that you’re going to be able to go through to reach all your dreams, all your goals and aspirations.”
Alternating yearly between elementary and secondary educators, the Milken Awards are sourced through each state’s respective department of education, which selects the independent committees that confidentially review candidates to recommend for MFF.
Tucker is Mobile County Public Schools’ sixth teacher to be named a Milken Educator. The others are: Jennifer Olewnik of Grand Bay Middle (2013); Stephanie LeGrone, the district’s science supervisor and former Mary G. Montgomery (2009); Lynn McCain, formerly of J.E. Turner Elementary and Semmes Middle (2006); Mike Fletcher of Davidson High School (2003) and Scott Nelson of Baker High (1998).
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