By Alan Sorensen
What do you say when youve just been told in front of all your students and peers that youve been awarded $25,000 for being a great teacher?
Im nervous, science teacher Judy Wolfe said from Havre Middle School gym center court Tuesday afternoon. As some of you who know me know, Im never at a loss for words, but I am now.
Wolfe spoke briefly, thanking the staff and faculty who have helped her grow as a teacher over the years. She concluded by saying, I think Im going to cry. I cant say another word. Thank you so much.
Joining in the thunderous applause were Wolfes mentor, retired Havre High science teacher Ron Kologi, her former teaching partner at Lincoln-McKinley School, Mike Spencer, and her parents, who were transported to Havre from their home in Big Timber at the expense of the Milken family.
And of course, her students.
When Keenan asked the students if they had any idea which teacher she was describing and who stood to collect the $25,000 award, between 50 and 100 students in Wolfes proximity stood and pointed at her.
The cash award of $25,000 has no strings attached. It is a gift from the Milken Family Foundation, one of four National Educator Awards handed out by the foundation in each of the 41 participating states every year.
Keenan told Vince Long of Billings Senior High School about his award Tuesday morning, and was scheduled to tell Godfrey Saunders of Bozeman High School and Maureen Thomas of Big Sky High School in Missoula about their awards on the heels of quick intrastate plane trips today.
Wolfe and the other three Montana honorees were selected from among states 10,000 or so teachers public school teachers and 3,000 additional school staff. The Milken awards are different from most because there is no nomination or application process and the winners have no idea they are even being considered for the prizes.
A long list of criteria are considered by state officials in selecting the winners.
The awards are kept secret at the Milken familys instructions. The assemblies are called at the last moment as a condition of the awards to keep as few people as possible from discovering the purpose of Keenans visit and the identity of the winner.
Thats the way the Milken family wants it, said Gail Gray, coordinator of the Milken awards for the Montana Office of Public Instruction.
Wolfe will have to wait until June 2000 to get her hands on the cash award.
Where she actually gets the check is in Los Angeles, Keenan said. They fly her there, all expenses paid. Its a 4-day conference for teachers at Century Plaza.
Besides attending the annual Milken Family Foundation National Education Conference, Wolfe will have the opportunity of participating in an ongoing network of more than 1,3000 of the nations most outstanding educators.
But first, Wolfe will join the other winners for a special banquet and get together in Helena on Nov. 19 where theyll be awarded crystal obelisks.
During a coffee and cake social after the assembly, Wolfe said she doesnt know what shell spend the money on.
I have no clue; they said to think about it, she said. I have a banker for a husband.
Wolfe recanted a moment later and said she may use some of the money to attend a workshop put on for National Board Certification of Teachers. It costs some money to do that.
Wolfe said she wore a dress to school Tuesday because she was told there was a chance that Keenan might acknowledge her as Havres Teacher of the Year, the award she won last spring.
Gray said that Wolfes selection as Havre teacher of the year had no basis in her selection as a Milken winner.