Principal Molly Yerkes from Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School presented with Alaska’s 2013 “Oscar of Teaching”

Molly Yerkes, the principal at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School in Juneau, Alaska, was surprised with an unrestricted $25,000 Milken Educator Award,, at a school-wide assembly today. This prestigious honor will be bestowed upon up to 40 of America’s most outstanding secondary school educators in 2013.

Alaska’s Commissioner of Education and Early Development Michael Hanley joined Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president, Milken Educator Awards to present the Award, the only one given in Alaska this year.

“Our public education system is at the heart of America’s promise and essential to safeguarding the American dream for future generations,” said Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation.  “With research confirming that effective teachers represent the single most important school-related factor in raising student achievement, it is important to honor them, learn from them, and inspire more capable people to enter the profession.  As the program’s motto extols, the future belongs to the educated.”



Internationally educated Molly Yerkes taught English in China before becoming principal at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. An engaged educator whose support of teachers is matched by her connection to the wider community, Yerkes encourages staff to take advantage of resources available outside of the classroom. She even created a fitness program for teachers to boost morale during the dark winter months. Earning the loyalty of teachers and students alike, Yerkes has become a valuable asset to Dzantik'i Heeni through a uniquely hands-on approach.

Yerkes' commitment to her teachers is on full display as she visits every classroom in the school each week, to observe and evaluate both staff and student progress. Cited by colleagues for her ability to effectively communicate, Yerkes brings along her laptop on these visits, taking notes so that she can provide the best feedback to teachers and parents, should they have a question. The classroom visits have been working. Scores for all subjects at Dzantik'i Heeni are above state average for every grade level.  7th-grade writing scores are 11% higher than the Alaskan average and 8th-grade math is an impressive 12% higher. Taking students to the next level, Yerkes promotes the AVID program, which encourages students to take advanced classes in preparation for college.

Juneau’s culture and resources are on full display when Yerkes hosts meet-ups downtown for her staff. Teachers are guided by Yerkes across the city, stopping at sites that have included the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, Russian Orthodox Church, and SeaAlaska preservation society. The interactive nature of these guided city walks not only builds morale among staff, but encourages them to share the academic advantages of the community with their students.

DETAILS:         The Milken Educator Awards, conceived by Lowell Milken to attract, retain and motivate outstanding talent to the teaching profession, is the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program, dubbed the “Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher Magazine. Since 1987, the Milken Family Foundation, co-founded by Michael and Lowell Milken, has devoted more than $136 million in funding to the Milken Educator Awards, including over $64 million in individual Awards to nearly 2,600 recipients plus powerful professional development opportunities and networking with leading education stakeholders.


Alaska joined the Milken Educator Awards program in 1990. $1,675,000 cash awards presented to 66 Alaska Milken Educator Award recipients

MORE:             Milken Educator Awards Website:

                        Alaska Department of Education Website:

                        Juneau School District Website:

Milken Family Foundation Website:
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