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Milken National Educator Awards

Photo of five people holding a big check

From left to right: Patty McGee, NJ Milken Veteran, Jane Foley, Senior Vice President of the Milken Educator Awards, Maria DeBruin, Tonya Breland, Lindsay Frevert & Nikki Silva, NJ Milken Veterans, Daniel Willever, NJ’s Newest Milken Recipient, Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet, Beverly Plein, NJ Milken Veteran and Director of Standards at the NJDOE & Nancy Besant, Educator Recognition Programs Specialist at the NJDOE.

This program honors and rewards outstanding  K-12 educators for the quality of their teaching, their professional leadership, their engagement with families and the community, and their potential for even greater contribution to the healthy development of children.  It provides national recognition, a $25,000 unrestricted financial award, and the opportunity to participate in ongoing professional development and connect with other state networks of educators

Lowell and Michael Milken and members of the Milken families conceived the National Educator Award program in the early 1980s. They saw the importance of recognizing great educators and developed a program that provides public recognition and financial rewards to outstanding educators. The first awards were presented to 12 California educators in 1987. Each educator in the program is given a $25,000 unrestricted financial award and the opportunity to participate in ongoing professional development at yearly state conferences, an annual National Education Conference, and through state networks of educators, state agency personnel, legislators, university personnel, business partners, and foundation staff.  New Jersey joined the Milken National Educator Awards in 2002 as the 45th state to participate.

Milken National Educator Honorees

Daniel Willever

Click to view New Jersey Milken National Notification Video

In Daniel Willever’s AP Human Geography class at New Jersey’s Ramsey High School, students develop plans to deal with a refugee crisis and reimagine political boundaries in the Middle East to support a peace plan. Every December the class travels to a local synagogue, Hindu temple, Zoroastrian temple and mosque to interact with faith leaders and parishioners as they reflect on their own place in our modern multicultural society. Willever, a proponent of product-based and inquiry-driven learning, brings in guest speakers including lawyers, professors and “living history” representatives like Hiroshima survivor and international peace advocate Koko Kondo. For an oral history project, students interview veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Willever introduced the AP Human Geography to Ramsey High School, which has grown from 25 students in its first year to nearly 60. Students earn an average score of 3.5 on the AP exam, higher than both state and global scores.

Willever embraces innovative teaching methods that create opportunities for Ramsey High School students to grow. He volunteered to pilot blended learning in his classroom, helped the school incorporate capstone projects as a graduation requirement in his role on the steering committee, and served on the technology integration teacher leadership team. Willever is a Google Level I Certified Teacher. In conjunction with the Institute of Play, he ran a half-day professional development on “gamification” learning strategies for computer science teachers in New York City. Willever arranged a partnership with an educational research organization to test virtual reality headsets in social studies classrooms and helped implement both the district’s 1:1 iPad initiative and the Schoology learning management system.

As the advisor to the Ramsey High School History Club, Willever takes students to places of historical significance and coaches students in National History Bee and Bowl competitions. Students organize events honoring civil rights heroes and local veterans. Willever has brought new life to the school’s mock trial team, which advanced to the county finals for the first time in its 25-year history. Through mock trial students practice crafting thoughtful questions, learn to think critically on the fly and hone their presentation skills; several have been inspired to pursue careers in law.

Willever is a lifelong learner. As a Woodrow Wilson Institute Fellow, he studied the pedagogy of play, project-based learning and design thinking in Princeton. He was one of 15 social studies teachers in the country to travel to Japan for cultural and professional experiences as a Keizai Koho Center Fellow. Willever always brings what he learns back to Ramsey High School. He has created units for his classes exploring modern American history through a presidential election role-play and studying public policy around population decline in Japan. Willever wrote the curriculum for World and National Affairs, a new Ramsey High School elective that will challenge students to confront narratives in local, global and social media using project-based learning.

Willever earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Gettysburg College in 2012.

He is working on a master’s degree in history and culture at Drew University and is writing his thesis on civil disobedience to defense preparation during the Cold War.

NJ Milken Honorees

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