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Claremore Teacher Surprised with Prestigious Milken Educator Award

Matt Trotter

The Milken Educator Awards have been called the "Oscars of teaching," and a Claremore teacher is the only one in Oklahoma to get one this season.

Gov. Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister surprised Will Rogers Junior High English language arts teacher Brooke Lee with the award Tuesday morning in a school-wide assembly.

Lee said with the governor and superintendent visiting her classroom first thing Tuesday, some of her eighth-graders had a hunch the prize was hers before her name was called.

"Some of my students sitting next to me kept saying, 'Mrs. Lee, it’s you. It’s going to be you,' and I said, 'It’s not going to be me.' And they said, 'Well, they’re coming into your classroom. It’s going to be you,' and I said, 'I don’t know. This is bigger than that," Lee said. "So, I’m very shocked, very surprised, so excited."

Teachers don’t apply or get recommended for the prize. The Milken Foundation finds the teachers it honors. Hofmeister offered her praise for Lee, a sixth-year teacher.

"It’s exciting to see national attention on Oklahoma educators and on a teacher that is so well-deserved, one who collaborates and one who puts her students first. So, we’re very excited and very proud," Hofmeister said.

Lee said that collaboration takes the form of teachers at Will Rogers getting together once a week to bounce ideas off each other with the goal of figuring out what will help their kids the most.

"We’re all lifelong learners. So, that gives us an opportunity to continue learning every week, and we always say we need to utilize each other more because we’re each other’s best resource," Lee said.

Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Jane Foley thanked students at Tuesday's assembly for their help thanking Lee in "such grand fashion," and she asked a favor of them before they were dismissed.

"Keep it going. After the assembly, think about all the teachers that have helped you along the way. Find them to say, 'Thank you,'" Foley said.

The Milken Award comes with a $25,000 prize Lee can spend as she wishes. She will also attend a national forum with other Milken winners in March.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.