Press Releases

2013 California “Oscar of Teaching” Presented to Teacher Jennifer Smith

November 20, 2013

November 20th, 2013 - At Pioneer Middle School in the Tustin Unified School District,  Jennifer Smith, a science and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher got the surprise of her life when Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken announced her name as the 2013 California Milken Educator Award winner. 

Jennifer Smith was honored in front of more than 1,300 cheering students and colleagues, as well as special guests including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

“Our public education system is at the heart of America’s promise and essential to safeguarding the American dream for future generations,” said Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation.  “With research confirming that effective teachers represent the single most important school-related factor in raising student achievement, it is important to honor them, learn from them, and inspire more capable people to enter the profession.  As the program’s motto extols, the future belongs to the educated.”

Jennifer Smith’s interest-based teaching methods challenge students at Pioneer Middle School in Tustin, California to organize their thoughts, problem solve and then evaluate their decisions or findings. In addition to incorporating technology into her students’ daily activities, Smith embraces the blended learning concept of the “flipped” classroom. With this approach, students watch video lectures (usually at home) and then complete what traditionally would be called homework during class. In this way, she is able to offer more personalized guidance to her students, realizing an estimated 20 percent increase in student achievement for those participating in her flipped lessons.

Smith has always believed in teaching literacy alongside the sciences, emphasizing the connections between math and science, science and technology and why literacy is vital to success – not just at school, but throughout life. To expose her students to a variety of STEM-related careers, she invites parents who are professionals in those fields to speak to her class. Thanks to this strong educational foundation, a large number of Smith’s students have enrolled in the area high schools’ Green Engineering or T-Tech Engineering Academies, and have received college scholarships.

She’s been involved in numerous school and district committees, such as the Distinguished School Committee, the Schools-to-Watch Committee and the Science Achievement Committee.  Additionally, she has been instrumental in developing science and STEM-focused strategic plans. This work has helped the District receive three grants, as well as garner strong interest in advancing the District’s STEM program from prestigious organizations, including the Smithsonian, Beckman Foundation and Science@OC.

Smith was selected by the Tustin Unified School District to represent their STEM program at the Smithsonian Science Strategic Planning Institute in Washington, D.C. When Pioneer School needs someone to give the TUSD Board of Education a teacher’s perspective, Smith is their go-to choice. “Jennifer Smith is a role model in our school district and the education profession. Her unwavering commitment to provide an excellent educational experience for every student inspires, instructs and informs us all,” said Tustin Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Gregory Franklin.

To learn more about Jennifer Smith and all of the latest Milken Educator Award recipients, please visit