The presentation was dramatic. Everyone waited anxiously in a jam-packed but hushed elementary school gymnasium in Beaumont, Texas, as the governor spoke: “A teacher who has shown excellence, who has helped you learn more, and done a great job, and this teacher’s name is Jenna Dean.” The crowd erupted with applause, and the surprised teacher walked to the front of the assembly.
Baylor professor Bill Sterrett stood behind a large check made out to Ms. Dean for $25,000. While he serves as the educational leadership department chair in Baylor’s School of Education, Sterrett is also part of a unique group of K12 educators, as a previous recipient of the Milken Educator Award, known as the “Oscars of Teaching.”
Founded in 1987, the Milken Educator Award recognizes mid-to-early-career educators for their impact in the classroom and provides an unrestricted gift award of $25,000. To date, nearly 3,000 exemplary teachers and principals have been recognized in surprise school assemblies that include state and local officials, teachers and staff, and students.
Sterrett received the award in 2008 as principal of Woodbrook Elementary School in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was commended for fostering a community of collaboration, motivation, and high expectations at the school. But the award was just the beginning. Milken Educators are given access to powerful networking and development tools throughout their careers in education.
Veteran Milken Educators also can help in making the surprise award presentations. Sterrett has long participated in surprise events in Virginia and North Carolina, where he served on the faculty of University of North Carolina Wilmington for 12 years before coming to Baylor last fall. Now as professor and chair of the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership, he had his first opportunities this spring to help present the prestigious awards to two Texas teachers.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the incredible work of teachers, and it really helps elevate the profession,” Sterrett observed. “I was able to travel across the state, visiting Helena Park Elementary School in Beaumont’s Nederland ISD to meet and recognize Jenna Dean, a fourth-grade teacher, and then to BASIS San Antonio Primary School, where third-grade teacher Diana Lopez was recognized. It’s energizing to recognize the extraordinary work of these educators and to meet stakeholders engaged in this work.”
At the Beaumont event, Sterrett met Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who was also at the San Antonio event. Then Sterrett got to meet 1956 Baylor graduate Margaret Massey Leeds, who received the award as a teacher at Beverly Hills High School in California and has since relocated to Texas. As a 1987 awardee, Leeds was in the first class of Milken Educators.
Sterrett said teachers deserve excitement at the level of the Academy Awards. “For the past few years, the teaching profession has encountered enormous challenges,” he noted. “This sort of positive recognition is a needed boost to encourage educators to continue on, to build networks to share out powerful ideas, and to affirm the great things happening in schools all across America.”
Before joining Baylor in 2022, Sterrett served as associate dean and professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Prior to his tenure at UNCW, Sterrett was a middle grades science teacher, assistant principal, and then principal in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Sterrett earned his undergraduate degree at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, where he studied middle grades education and was a three-year letter winner for the men’s basketball team. He received his MEd and PhD at the University of Virginia, studying educational administration.
At UNCW, Sterrett led a US State Department grant called IDEA-STEM which involved providing middle school STEM professional development and related technology to teachers in Lahore, Pakistan. He helped lead a collaborative effort with the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition.
Sterrett’s current research focuses on innovation in educational leadership, including sustainable green schools and districts, digital principals and technology-savvy superintendents, and collaborative school improvement. Sterrett has co-authored publications with numerous students at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels on topics including principal instructional leadership, sustainability leadership, PDS partnership efforts, student-athlete perspectives, and school improvement.
“I have been fortunate to meet fantastic colleagues and students at Baylor this year,” Sterrett said. “I look forward to finding new opportunities to collaborate together here in Texas and beyond.”
For more than 100 years, the School of Education has advanced Baylor’s mission across the globe while preparing students for a range of careers focused on education, leadership, and human development. With more than 60 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation. Likewise, the School of Education’s graduate programs have attained national recognition for their exemplary preparation of research scholars, educational leaders, innovators, and clinicians. Visit www.baylor.edu/SOE to learn more.
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.