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Sahuarita teacher surprised with Milken Educator Award


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  • Jennifer Liewer/Arizona Department of Education

Christopher Laughland

Christopher Laughland, an English and audio visual teacher at Walden Grove High School in Sahuarita, Ariz., today was presented with a $25,000 Milken Educator Award at a surprise school-wide assembly. The award was presented by Dr. Gary Stark, president and CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, and Arizona State Superintendent John Huppenthal. This prestigious award recognizes the exceptional work of educators from around the country as models for their states and the nation.

“There is nothing more rewarding than having the opportunity to recognize a truly remarkable educator like Mr. Laughland,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. “The impressive work he has done will have a lasting impact and it is my hope that he will be continue to change the lives of Arizona children for years to come.”    

Sahuarita teacher surprised with Milken Educator Award ChristopherLaughlandHP

Still holding his oversized $25,000 check in his hand, Christopher Laughland, an English and Audio Visual teacher at Walden Grove High School, is surrounded by the Walden Grove HS Student Council, for which he serves as advisor. Now that Laughland is a Milken Educator, he will have the opportunity to advise and make an impact on students’ lives on many levels.
Courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Based on guidelines established by the foundation, participating states’ departments of education appoint blue-ribbon committees that recommend candidates for selection. Identification and selection procedures are confidential, and the program does not include a formal nomination or application procedure.

The criteria for the selection of outstanding elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and other education professionals as Milken Educators include all of the following:

  • Exceptional educational talent as evidenced by effective instructional practices and student learning results in the classroom and school;
  • Exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession;
  • Individuals whose contributions to education are largely unheralded yet worthy of the spotlight;
  • Early- to mid-career educators who offer strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership; and
  • Engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues and the community.                                                                                                                       
Sahuarita teacher surprised with Milken Educator Award Christopher-Laughland-with-Milken-EducatorsHP

Veteran Milken Educators love to welcome new members to the family in person, as do representatives of the school system on every level.
Pictured, from left: President and CEO of the National Instituted for Excellence in Teaching and Milken Educator Dr. Gary Stark (AZ ‘01), District Superintendent and Milken Educator Dr. Manuel Valenzuela (AZ ‘98), Milken Educator Eleanor Gaines (AZ ’04), Newest Milken Educator Christopher Laughland (AZ ’13), Milken Educator Bradley Breuer (AZ ’10) and State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.
Courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Walden Grove High School stands out in the school district for being only two years old; and with just six years of teaching under his belt, Laughland is equally new to education. No matter, by all accounts he’s made his mark on the school, the students, their parents and the Sahuarita, Ariz., community.

Laughland excels as a teacher, mentor to other instructors, student council advisor, principal designee, head baseball coach, and many more. Using his class as a model for observation, colleagues and administrators praise Laughland’s strong implementation of technology and other inventive methods to engage students and keep them excited about learning. To reinforce the concepts of simile, metaphor, alliteration and personification, he has his class sing along to popular songs. And in his audio/visual courses, students create public service videos that are played during the morning’s daily announcements. These hands-on activities resonate with the students as well as inspire other Walden Grove High teachers to try new approaches in their classrooms.

Laughland’s instructional practices and “never-say-no” philosophy are also what contribute to Walden Grove High’s impressive state test scores. In the high school’s first year (2012), 90 percent of his students met or exceeded benchmarks on the state AIMS Reading test—seven percent higher than the state and county average. On the state AIMS Writing test, 74 percent met or exceeded targets—five percent above the state and county average.

Sahuarita teacher surprised with Milken Educator Award Christopher-Laughland-reactionHP

Christopher Laughland’s classroom often serves as a model for his implementation of technology. But in the moment his name is announced as the newest Milken Educator it is clear that the real model is Christopher himself, for providing the most crucial element to the success of a child’s education: the unwavering commitment of a caring educator.
Courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Outside of the classroom, students, fellow educators and administrators point to Laughland as a guiding force. He has furnished “fast facts” for new teachers, helped design and define a positive school climate through his founding of the Red Wolf Spirit Club, and the baseball program doubled in its second year under his leadership. Laughland’s passion and uplifting attitude aided students through the challenge of playing “away” games all year due to not having athletic facilities during the first year of school. Finding strength in adversity is one of Laughland’s many lessons that transcend beyond the classroom into life as well.

Since first presented to a dozen California teachers, the Milken Educator Awards has grown to become the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program having honored nearly 2,600 K-12 teachers, principals and specialists. More than $136 million in funding, including over $64 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.

For more photos and information, please go to the website www.milkeneducatorawards.org.