|Kelly Smith meets the media, who are eager to learn her reactions upon hearing that she is a Milken award winner.|
Everyone crowded into Dulaney High School’s auditorium on October 27 knew something was up. You didn’t have all these TV cameras, state and county dignitaries, and much of the school’s student body come together just to hold an academic pep rally.
It didn’t take long to find out. As each speaker took to the podium – Hollywood actor and producer Robert Townsend, Principal Lyle Patzkowsky, Superintendent Dr. Joe A. Hairston, the school’s choir, and finally State Superintendent Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick – the sense grew that something big and exciting was about to happen.
When something did happen, no one was more surprised than Dulaney English teacher Kelly Smith. One moment, she was standing against an auditorium wall watching as Dr. Grasmick announced that one of her colleagues was about to be named recipient of one of only 100 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Awards and receive an oversized check for $25,000. The next moment, she heard her name called.
“I started to feel sick. I started to swoon,” said Smith, 40, who is English department chair at Dulaney and the second Baltimore County teacher in as many years to win a prestigious Milken Award. The rush of cameras turned her way, the embrace of the state’s top educational leaders, the pictures and plaudits and pizzazz – suddenly all for her.
|Dulaney English teacher Kelly Smith receives a hug of congratulations from Lowell Milken.|
“For anyone who knows Kelly Smith, this comes as no surprise,” said Dulaney Principal Patzkowsky. “She is the embodiment of all that is right and all that is good in public education.”
The dramatic announcement underscored Baltimore County’s dedication to and support of stellar teaching. Last year, Deidre Austen, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Lutherville Laboratory Elementary School, received the $25,000 check and membership in the elite Milken award winners, of which there are only 100 named per year – two for every state.
The award honors those teachers from across the nation who are recognized as exceptional educators. The largest national teacher recognition program in the U.S., the Milken awards were established in 1985 to reward, retain, and attract outstanding K-12 educators to the profession.
|Kelly Smith (center) is greeted by Lowell Milken as Dulaney High Principal Lyle Patzkowsky looks on.|
Joining Drs. Grasmick and Hairston to honor Ms. Smith were Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, and Townsend, who movingly spoke of his own educational challenges and triumphs. Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith and members of the Baltimore County Board of Education also were on hand to witness the surprise award.
“If you thought I was shocked, you should have seen the looks on the faces of my SAT class,” a more composed Smith said later during a reception in the school’s media center. “But really, every teacher in Baltimore County deserves this. In every school in Baltimore County, there are so many talented teachers that it is humbling.”
Added Milken, “Excellence must not be
the exception in our schools, but rather the
norm. Talented teachers are the key to ensuring
high-quality educational opportunities for all
students. By recognizing and rewarding outstanding
educators each year like Kelly Smith, we focus
the nation’s attention on the critical
need to attract, retain and motivate caring,
capable people to the American teaching profession.”
|Having just learned she is a new Milken educator, Dulaney High teacher Kelly Smith (in red, third from left) is joined by (from left) BCPS Superintendent Dr. Joe A. Hairston, Dulaney Principal Lyle Patzkowsky, Maryland Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, and Hollywood actor and producer Robert Townsend.|
According to the Milken awards web site, Smith’s achievements go far beyond the classroom. “Each summer,” it states, “Smith stimulates widespread excitement about reading by turning the entire school community into a book club. Through her "One Book, One Dulaney" program, students, parents and staff select a single book to read, which they discuss afterward during after-school and evening book talks. This kind of instructional innovation occurs year-round in Ms. Smith's class. Through her Reader's Theater project, students come to understand literature through interpretation and performance, writing, acting and creating poster art for a variety of stories and plays.
“As chair of the English department,” according to the web site, “Ms. Smith works with colleagues in her department, as well as teachers in science and social studies, to infuse critical reading, thinking and vocabulary skills across multiple areas of daily instruction. She helped develop and currently co-chairs Students Organized for Academic Success (SOAR), a program that provides support and assistance to challenged students who have demonstrated potential for academic success. Students in this program have achieved significant academic success in lower- and higher-level courses, and have become members of student leadership organizations.”
Smith began her teaching career at Patapsco High School before coming to Dulaney. Now 40, the Idlewylde resident betrays a passion for teaching that seems infectious. “Teaching is a great career. There’s no template for the way your days are going to be,” she says. The educator stays student-focused, especially attuned to the challenges of both learning and growing.
“Being a teenager is difficult. It’s not an easy time. So if I can get in there and I can make a difference and make their lives easier and better, I’m going to try to do that. That’s what I try to do.”
Nearby, Elaine Berry, coordinator of secondary English and reading for Baltimore County Public Schools, shared in Smith’s joy and excitement. “I’m so proud of her – it couldn’t have gone to a more deserving person,” Berry says. “English doesn’t always get a lot of the awards and attention that other areas of study do, so this is really exciting.”
Story and photos by Charles Herndon, Communications Specialist