Oklahoma Baptist University

Dickerson Named National Milken Award Recipient

OBU alum James Dickerson, a second-grade teacher at César E. Chávez Elementary School in Las Cruces, N.M., recently received the Milken Family Foundation 2010 National Educator Award.

James Dickerson, a second-grade teacher at César E. Chávez Elementary School in Las Cruces, N.M., received the 2010 National Milken Educator Award from Dr. Susanna Murphy, New Mexico Public Education Department secretary-designate, on Nov. 5. The award includes an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Dickerson and his wife, Jamie, both graduated from OBU in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in special education.

Each year, a teacher or principal from every state is chosen by a committee to receive the Milken award. Unlike most teacher award programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Every participating state’s department of education appoints an independent blue ribbon committee to recommend candidates according to strict criteria, with final selections made by the Milken Family Foundation.

Surprising the recipients during an all-school assembly is part of the Milken Award tradition.

“We had been planning for the New Mexico secretary of education to come for a visit, but I was told that it was for a different reason, so I was shocked when they announced my name,” Dickerson said.

The Los Angeles-based foundation gives teachers across the nation the distinction each year. The award includes an all-expense-paid trip for Dickerson and his fellow winners to the Milken Educator Forum in Santa Monica, Calif., in the spring.

The OBU alum said he plans to use some of the unrestricted cash prize from the award to add technology to his classroom. He also reflected on how his own education on Bison Hill helped prepare him for success.

“I feel that OBU prepared me very well for the teaching field,” Dickerson said. “My professors, including Dr. Pam Robinson and Dr. Genia James, provided me with extensive knowledge about special education and education in general. OBU provided a great deal of hands-on teaching experience from the time I declared my major. I believe that the teacher education program at OBU is by far one of the best, and I am so grateful for my education.”

Robinson, former chair of the Division of Teacher Education, now serves as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at OBU and as professor of education. James served as an assistant professor of education at OBU while Dickerson was a student.

The national selection committee chooses educators who possess an inspiring presence and have exceptional talent as evidenced by effective instructional practices, exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom and long-range potential for professional leadership.

The Milken Award website reports that utilizing positive reinforcement to applaud students’ respectful behavior, Dickerson is known for helping even the most academically challenged children reach their highest potential. His classroom innovations include the “Caught Being Good” program, an adaptation of New Mexico’s Character Counts Program, in which laudable conduct is recorded and rewarded in front of the class at the end of each week. The website reports Dickerson’s teaching style is rooted in differentiated instruction, and he uses cooperative learning centers to encourage collaboration and exploration. His efforts to include parents in their children’s education include the “Café” program, in which moms, dads and caregivers are encouraged to join students for lunch at school once a week.

“When it comes to student achievement, Dickerson has made significant inroads,” the Milken site said. “His second graders have achieved the highest scores on statewide assessment tests, ranking first in math and reading MAP scores. At the start of one school year, only half of Dickerson’s students were proficient at grade level. Venerated for approaching his work with authority and a well-defined understanding of his role, Dickerson is an effective communicator, teacher, mentor and frequent presenter to peers and others.”

A second-grade team leader, Dickerson also serves on the school leadership committee, was Morale Co-Chair (2008–09) and helps draft his school’s action plans.

The criteria for the selection of outstanding elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and other education professionals as Milken Educators include exceptional educational talent as evidenced by effective instructional practices and student learning results in the classroom and school; exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide models of excellence for the profession; individuals whose contributions to education are largely unheralded yet worthy of the spotlight; early- to mid-career educators who offer strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership; and engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues and the community.

For more information about the award, click here.