Press Releases

30th Anniversary Year of Milken Educator Awards Continues in Arizona and Colorado

February 16, 2017

FEB. 16th, 2017 - This week Lowell Milken traveled to Rim Rock Elementary in Fruita, Colorado, and Rogers Ranch School in Laveen, Arizona, where he honored exceptional educators in front of their students and colleagues in surprise assemblies.

On Feb 13th, Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken and Colorado Commissioner of Education Dr. Katy Anthes surprised math teacher Felicia Casto with the Milken Educator Award during a morning assembly. Teachers and students cheered Casto forward to accept the Award as Mesa County Valley School District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz and veteran Milken Educator Award recipients were also present to offer well-deserved congratulations. Casto is the first recipient from the Mesa County Valley School District 51 to be awarded since 2002.

"Felicia Casto is a dedicated teacher and learner who constantly sharpens her own professional mindset through cutting-edge research and techniques," said Lowell Milken. "Her innovative ideas and knowledge sharing directly result in teacher effectiveness, student growth and parent involvement. Only a talented educator has the charisma to make Family Math Nights popular entertainment."

"The Milken Award is a prestigious honor for an educator. As a dedicated and innovative teacher, Ms. Casto has inspired both students and her fellow teachers," said Superintendent Schultz. "She is a perfect candidate for this honor and a valuable member of our District 51 team."

Felicia Casto is schooling the students at Rim Rock Elementary in a new language: she's teaching them to "speak math." As the enrichment teacher at Rim Rock, a pre-K through fifth-grade school, Casto works with students in grades kindergarten through five weekly, either before school or during the day, and also coaches Rim Rock's teachers. Because of Casto, both students and teachers have embraced a growth mindset, taking on challenges and constantly looking for ways to improve outcomes. And improve they do: most students who work with Casto show a year's growth or more, and the school's reading and math scores rival state averages.

At the district level, Casto is working on a new K-12 math rubric which will impact the district's more than 21,000 students. The district is moving to performance-based learning, and Casto is helping to define mastery, develop common assessments and create a unified curriculum. She immerses herself in the latest research and shares her knowledge freely, driving discussions with colleagues and administrators about the implications for students. Casto also provides guidance and leadership during Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings at Rim Rock, helping grade-level and vertical teams analyze data and develop assessments. She was one of 12 teachers selected as a K-2 Formative Task Reviewer for PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).

On Wed. Feb 15th,  Lowell Milken and Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas and Laveen Elementary School District Superintendent Dr. Bill Johnson recognized Rogers Ranch School Principal Timothy Thomas for his outstanding instructional leadership and curriculum development during a surprise all-school assembly.

"Where others see challenges, Timothy Thomas sees potential. He knows how to level the playing field and provide educational opportunities for achievement, regardless of the socio-economic conditions of the students or school he serves," said Lowell Milken. "To turn around one school is quite a feat, but to turn around two schools is exceptional and a road map for others to follow. Timothy is that special type of leader all schools deserve."

Thomas is the only Milken Educator Award recipient from Arizona this year, and the first from the Laveen Elementary School District. Before joining Rogers Ranch, Thomas led a similarly successful turnaround effort as principal of Cordova Middle School in Phoenix's Alhambra Elementary School District. In Thomas' first year, the school beat state and district averages in student achievement, led the district in student and teacher attendance, and became Alhambra's highest-performing middle school.

This season marks the 30th year of the Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching." To learn more about the Milken Educator Award please visit