Advocate staff report
Laura Cole was stunned when she heard her name called in the Scott High School auditorium filled with her students, colleagues and state and local education officials.
The Kenton County mathematics teacher was named the winner of the Milken Educator Award, often referred to as the “Oscars of Teaching.” The award, which comes with $25,000, is sponsored by the Milken Family Foundation.
“My mind just went blank and I was just in shock, because I just did not think they were awarding it to me,” Cole said at the Feb. 26 ceremony. “There are so many great teachers at our school. So many people would have fulfilled what the Milken Foundation described as the winner of this award.”
Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown presented Cole with the award at the assembly which included First Lady Britainy Beshear, Milken Educator Awards Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher, Kenton County Superintendent Henry Webb and school board members Shannon Herold and Karen Collins.
“It is an incredible honor to be here as we celebrate our most valuable educational resource – our hardworking, dedicated teachers,” Brown said. “The work is not always easy, and the days are often long, but our Kentucky educators work tirelessly to ensure all students meet high expectations and acquire the skills and knowledge they will need to be successful in life.”
Cole, a graduate of Jefferson County Schools, teaches Geometry, Algebra II and a dual-credit college algebra course at Scott, where she has been on the faculty since 2008.
“I take the responsibility of the award, and hopefully I will continue to work hard for our kids and my colleagues here at Scott High School, but also know that I can reach more people in the state of Kentucky and also hopefully reach and mentor teachers across the country,” she said.
Cole serves on Scott’s school-based decision making council, runs the math department’s professional learning community and spends significant time on professional development.
She has elevated student performance by grouping her ninth- and 10th-grade students by similar skill levels, then adjusting the teams based on individual data. Cole’s students’ test scores are the highest in the district, said Collins, board vice chairwoman, who added she was honored to attend the ceremony to witness Cole’s surprise.
“It was just so awesome, so exciting,” Collins said. “It was just so great for the district. I can't say enough.”
Herold, a retired teacher who taught in the district for more than 30 years, said Cole’s students’ reactions when they heard her name showed just how much she is admired.
“It brings tears to my eyes because those students were just so thrilled. You could tell that it wasn't really a shock to them once they thought about it, because she must be just an outstanding teacher,” she said. “To see those kids light up, stand up, cheering for her, she is well loved not only by the students but also by her colleagues.”
Through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cole helps teachers in the district implement math standards and teaching strategies by holding workshops, visiting classrooms and modeling lessons on video.
The school board also recognized Cole for her award at the board’s March meeting.
“Laura just shines a light as an amazing educator, mentor and colleague, but also on Kenton County as we’re working hard to educate all kids to become successful in their lives,” Herold said.
Cole is one of just 40 winners of the Milken Award this year and the only one in Kentucky.
Beshear said she and her husband, Gov. Andy Beshear, were thrilled to celebrate Cole’s win.
“Andy and I understand the valuable impact that educators have on the students that walk through their doors every day,” she said. “This administration is committed to strengthening and lifting up education, and we are inspired by the work of dedicated teachers like Laura.”