An 11-year educator who knew she wanted to be a teacher even as a Parkside Elementary School student has won a prestigious national educator award.

Laurie Davies, who used to help her teachers set up the classroom and bulletin boards as a sixth-grader, was recognized for her skills as a fourth-grade teacher at Pine Tree Elementary School in Avon.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz surprised Davies with the Milken Educator Award and its $25,000 no-strings cash prize Jan. 27 at her school.

Davies is among 12 educators nationally who have won Milken awards so far this year, at a rate of about two or three a week since Jan. 8.

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“I’m very introverted, and I was quite shocked for a while,” Davies said in a telephone interview.

She was among the teachers listening to Ritz talk about the prestigious award and wondering who had won — until her name was called.

The Columbus North Class of 2000 graduate is still letting the idea of winning sink in and is still considering how to invest the cash prize — possibly a small splurge on cycling equipment or something for her family.

The announcement was such a surprise that none of her family members were told, not even her husband.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted,” Davies said.

She is the first Pine Tree teacher to win the Milken Educator Award and the second teacher to win from the Avon school district.

Award background

The Milken Awards were established in 1987 by the Milken Family Foundation as a way of rewarding and inspiring teaching excellence. The foundation notes that educators consider the awards, and the cash prize, the “Oscars” of teaching.

The awards aren’t given for lifetime achievement. Instead, they are targeted at early to mid-career teachers.

Winners aren’t nominated by anyone but are sought out by the foundation for their innovative teaching methods and dedication to the craft of teaching.

At the announcement, Ritz praised Davies for her work with parents to build personal connections and her creative way in presenting curriculum to her students.

Davies said she approaches teaching with the understanding that every student comes to her with a different knowledge base.

‘The Data Queen’

She uses data she collects to create spreadsheets that help her understand students’ strengths and weaknesses, then she differentiates instructional techniques based on that, she said.

She is known at the school as “The Data Queen,” Pine Tree Principal Karie Mize said. “She knows her kids forward and backwards when it comes to data.”

For example, after her students take a math test, Davies analyzes how well each student did on the test and uses that data to evaluate how effectively she taught the concepts that were covered on the test. The information then is used to track improvement and progress for each student and the entire class.

As a result, Davies’ students annually perform better than their peers on early grade evaluations, according to the Milken Foundation.

Davies piloted a Transactional Reading Strategies program to provide literacy approaches for the first 21 days of school and shared her ideas with other teachers. She co-developed Operation Family First, which is a parent program offering classes and supporting family life and student achievement.

As a fourth-grade teacher, Davies is responsible for teaching language arts, math, science and social studies. One of Davies’ greatest strengths is that she has taught all elementary grade levels other than kindergarten, Mize said.

Davies is active in coordinating many school-parent events for the school and attends almost all of the Parent Teacher Organization meetings, not just as her classroom’s teacher but to reach out to all parents of the school, Mize said.

The 2004 University of Evansville graduate is working on her educational leadership master’s degree at Indiana University.

Early inklings

Davies said she always knew she would be a teacher, a plan that solidified as she helped her Parkside teachers put up bulletin boards and helped family friends who were teachers set up their classrooms.

She doesn’t have a favorite grade to teach, although she said she always thought it would be fourth grade, because that’s when students blossom into academic maturity and take on harder concepts.

But there’s something to be said to working with second-graders who are just starting to develop a passion and love of reading, she said.

When asked what inspired her to become a teacher, Davies said it was the experience of being in the classrooms at Parkside and helping her teachers there that led her to the career.

She mentioned her sixth-grade teacher at Parkside, Catherine Martin, as someone who especially provided inspiration to her at an early age. Martin taught at Parkside from 1987 to 2003.

Retired and living in Nashville, Martin remembers Davies as a pleasant and dedicated student who helped other students and helped out in the classroom in any way she could.

“She was very kind and thoughtful,” Martin said. “I am sure she is an extraordinary teacher.”

About Laurie Davies

Age: 33

Hometown: Columbus

Current city of residence: Avon

Educational background: Bachelor of Science in elementary education from University of Evansville, pursuing a master’s in education at Indiana University

Family information: Ken Davies, husband; Clayton Davies, son; Jean Bandos, mother; Mike and Paula Bandos, father and stepmother; Jamie Bandos, brother.

Teaching history: Taught for 11 years at Pine Tree Elementary School in Avon, including eight years of fourth grade, two years of third grade, and one year of a first/second grade split.

Teacher who most inspired you and why: “Catherine Martin was my sixth-grade teacher at Parkside Elementary. She built lasting relationships with each and every one of us and treated each student as if we were one of her own. She taught me the importance of creating strong relationships and then teaching us the content. She was one of the teachers that allowed me to help out in her classroom when she needed small projects completed.”

About the Milkin Educator Awards

Established: 1987

By: Milken Family Foundation

Award: $25,000

To date: More than 2,600 awards have been given, which total more than $65 million.

Recipients are surprised with the award during an all-school assembly in front of students, colleagues, city officials and the media. The award goes to a beginning or midlevel teacher who has impressive achievements and promise for what they will do in the future.

Information: milkeneducatorawards.org

Another Indiana winner

Kelly Wilber, a Southport Elementary School teacher in Indianapolis, is the only other Indiana teacher honored this year with a Milken Award.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.