Principal Stephanie Conklin sat among her staff at Brougham Elementary School in Olathe listening to the characteristics of the person who would receive one of this year’s $25,000 Milken Award for educators.
Leadership, dedication, commitment and inspiring.
“I thought, that could be anyone in this room, because I have such an awesome staff here,” Conklin said as she looked around the school gymnasium packed with teachers, counselors, staff and students. They’d all gathered for an assembly that, unbeknownst to them, was planned to present one of their school leaders with what some call “the Oscar of education.”
It was all a big surprise. Until her name was announced, Conklin had no idea she’d been selected by the Milken Family Foundation.
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Given the dignitaries in the room — Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson, Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis, Congressman Kevin Yoder and members of the Olathe school board — Conklin was convinced that all the day’s hoopla, including purple and white balloons and singing children, had been pulled together for some big, last-minute state education announcement.
But when Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, called her name, the room erupted in cheers and applause. Conklin’s mouth flew open. “My hands got sweaty,” she said.
“I am truly honored to receive such a generous award,” Conklin said. “I’m incredibly grateful. It is a privilege to serve as principal of Brougham Elementary. This award is truly a reflection of my school family. They make me look good.”
Conklin, who has been principal at Brougham for seven years and an educator for nearly 15, is one of only 35 teachers and principals around the country being recognized this year with the Milken educator distinction.
The award is given to early to midcareer educators who have shown evidence of exceptional education talent through effective instruction and through it garnered a high level academic performance from students, said Patricia All, Olathe Public Schools superintendent.
“The educational outcomes that Stephanie Conklin has helped to drive at Brougham Elementary School are outstanding and a true example of the leadership that’s needed to ensure children’s success,” Milken said.
“She’s special,” said Brittany Thomsen, who teaches fifth grade. “She is an strong leader and strives for excellence for her staff and for students.”
Lydia Feikert, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Brougham, agreed. In fact, Lydia said, “I really wasn’t that surprised that she won. She is an amazing principal, always there when you need her. She is just awesome.”
Conklin is the 64th Kansas educator in 30 years to win the Milken award. This is the second consecutive year a Johnson County teacher has won. Last year, Bill Smithyman, a Blue Valley Northwest High School teacher, received the award.
Over the years more than $1.5 million in Milken prize money has been awarded in Kansas.
Conklin said she hasn’t decided exactly how she will spend her $25,000 award, but said she’ll certainly spend some of it giving back to her district, and maybe, she said, she’ll use some to go back to school.