2017 Milken Educator Award Winner in Ohio

The Milken Family Foundation National Educator Awards program honors outstanding teachers and administrators in 48 states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia. Awards are presented to elementary (grades K-5) and secondary (grades 6-12) school educators in alternate years. Each Milken Educator receives an unrestricted award of $25,000.

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Photo credit: Milken Family Foundation

Maria Rodgers, a math teacher at Milkovich Middle School in Maple Heights, wears many hats. Through her 12 years as an educator in Maple Heights City Schools, she has been known to coordinate her lesson plans with her outfits, coming in one day in a bee costume and another as a drill sergeant, running a "boot camp" complete with games and learning stations to prepare students for a state assessment. It's all part of her approach to help students better conceptualize mathematical ideas through activities that keep them engaged.

Though she loves highlighting her students' accomplishments, today was Rodgers' turn in the spotlight. In front of a gymnasium packed with her students, peers, visiting dignitaries and media, Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Administrator Greg Gallagher, joined by Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria, surprised Rodgers as a recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award.

Rodgers is among 44 honorees for 2017-18 to receive the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000. She is the only Ohioan to receive the award this 2017-18 season and the first from Maple Heights City Schools. Full Press Release

2017 Milken Educator

Maria Rodgers

Math teacher Maria Rodgers goes the extra mile to fully engage her students. Rodgers arrives at her classroom at Milkovich Middle School in Maple Heights, Ohio, dressed as a waitress when students are working on “order” of operations. Other accessories include a grass skirt, a wizard hat or a Queen Bee costume—always related to the lesson at hand. When her previous school, Barack Obama School in the same district, developed a “boot camp” to prepare students for a state assessment, Rodgers showed up in full Army fatigues and put 150 fourth- and fifth-graders through their paces for three hours with games, learning stations and modules.

Rodgers has taught every level from struggling learners to gifted. She pioneered the concept of individualized growth targets and differentiated goal-setting at Milkovich, making little “fat heads” for every student and pinning them on the wall with data charts; every building in the district has since followed her lead. In a largely-minority school with many transient families, Rodgers’ students are head of the class: 92% pass state math assessments, and they are making significant gains in value-added achievement growth. Always seeking to be ahead of the curve, Rodgers teaches an elementary summer intervention program to get to know future students and prepare her instruction.

Rodgers serves on building- and district-level committees for both instruction and day-to-day school operations. She has been involved in Milkovich’s continuous improvement efforts, leading changes in the school’s attendance policy and curriculum in both reading and math. Rodgers presents professional development, speaks at school board meetings, is developing performance-based assessments, and mentors new teachers. Using the “No Nonsense Nurturing” model Milkovich adopted more than a year ago, Rodgers coaches other teachers on how to create a positive learning climate. In partnership with The Schlechty Center, she has convened groups that include students, parents, teachers and community members to help Milkovich increase student engagement. Rodgers’ Pathfinders program celebrating diversity and African-American culture has become a community favorite. Each year, the district’s top 20 graduating seniors honor their most influential teachers; though most name high school educators, Rodgers is regularly included on the list.

Rodgers is a graduate of Akron University, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2005 and a master’s in 2011.


For more information about the award's history, goals and recipients, and to see photos of this year's national conference and award winners, visit the Milken Family Foundation website.  

Last Modified: 1/12/2018 10:02:01 AM