Hartford Teacher Surprised With National Award And $25,000 Check
Annie Fisher STEM Teacher Honored Friday With Milken Educator Award
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
January 25, 2013
HARTFORD —— One of the biggest lessons that Tamika Knight teaches her fifth-graders at Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School is "you never know who's watching you."
Work hard and be respectful because it's the right thing to do. Math and reading skills are crucial, but so is shaping productive citizens of the world.
"Character, how you treat other people, what you say, how you present yourself all the time," Knight said. "That's what makes good people."
On Friday, Knight's students learned that their teacher has been closely watched. A morning assembly in the gymnasium brought state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, school board Chairman Matthew Poland and Mayor Pedro Segarra, who appeared to wipe away a tear after they stunned Knight with the Milken Educator Award.
Jane Foley, a senior vice president with the California-based Milken Family Foundation, described the national honor as the "Oscars of teaching." It comes with a $25,000 prize that Knight can spend however she wants. Knight, the only winner in Connecticut this school year, did not apply for the award.
"You don't find us," Foley said. "We find you."
After Foley called Knight's name, and children and teachers burst into cheers, the 35-year-old rose slowly from her chair, wide-eyed and in disbelief.
"I'm still in awe of this moment," Knight said into the microphone as past Milken winners from Connecticut held a huge ceremonial check. "I couldn't do this without my students."
"You're welcome," one boy said loudly.
Knight, a Hartford teacher for 12 years, was raised in this city. She attended Milner Elementary, Quirk Middle and the former Classical Magnet program at Hartford Public High School. Before her graduation in 1995, when Knight was 17 and living with her grandparents and five siblings on Homestead Avenue, the Courant featured her as a Student of the Week.
Even then, Knight said her career goal was to teach in Hartford. She studied education at Central Connecticut State University on a full basketball scholarship.
In 2009, as a fourth-grade teacher at Dwight Elementary School, she became one of three finalists for Hartford's Teacher of the Year competition.
On Friday, Gayle Allen-Greene watched with quiet pride as people congratulated Knight and playfully asked about the Milken money. (No clue yet how she will spend it.)
"That's big time, Tamika," said Allen-Greene, Knight's former basketball coach at Hartford Public.
Allen-Greene, now principal at Bulkeley High's Upper School, received a discreet invitation to attend the assembly but mostly stood out of the way to avoid tipping off Knight. As a ruse, the school system sent out a media advisory claiming that Pryor was going to bestow a "first-ever special recognition" to the high-performing Annie Fisher STEM, the winner of a 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools award.
"Seeing you made it that much better," Knight told Allen-Greene after the event.
In high school, Knight said, it was Allen-Greene who first talked to her about going to college. The teenager had been like many other city students, just trying to get through each day.
"My coach came and my world is different," Knight said. "I'm just paying it forward."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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