SANTA MONICA, Ca (press release) — Jay Weisman has a superpower: He makes students want to learn, no matter what he’s teaching. At Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, Louisiana, Weisman has taught both math and social studies with a creative flourish that translates to consistent student progress. In a surprise school assembly today, his innovation in the classroom was celebrated with a national Milken Educator Award. The honor includes a $25,000 cash prize that Weisman can use however he wishes.
Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken was joined by Louisiana Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley to present Weisman with the prestigious recognition before cheering students, appreciative colleagues, federal, state and local dignitaries, and media. Weisman is among more than 60 educators across the country who will receive the Award during the 2021-22 season. The last Orleans Parish recipient was awarded in 2017.
In addition to today’s fanfare, Weisman will join a national network of more than 2,800 Milken Educator Award recipients dedicated to strengthening K-12 education.
“Jay Weisman’s multifaceted approach to teaching ensures that students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to become reflective, productive citizens,” said Lowell Milken. “Beyond the classroom, Jay is a strong advocate for students and a valuable asset to colleagues. It gives me great pleasure to welcome Jay into the national Milken Educator Network of excellence.”
Hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues and communities. The Awards are not designated for lifetime achievement. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award.
“Ben Franklin teacher Jay Weisman uses his ingenuity and enthusiasm to engage his high school math and social studies students in fun activities while maintaining high standards,” said State Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley. “The Department is proud to celebrate his commitment to his school and to the New Orleans community.”
Weisman is the second Milken Educator Award recipient from Louisiana this season. Laura Laiche, a third grade teacher at Slaughter Elementary School in East Feliciana Public Schools, earned the Award yesterday.
More About Jay Weisman
In the Classroom: Weisman brings creativity and enthusiasm to classes like geometry, advanced math, geography, and AP U.S. Government. In geometry, students assemble proofs on the floor from giant pieces of paper. To kick off review for summative assessments, Weisman dresses in all black and steps from desktop to desktop as the theme from “Mission Impossible” plays in the background. Students use their knowledge of points, lines, planes and angles to solve “clues” that help them make their way through a series of lasers protecting a “secure vault.” In AP Government, Weisman explained the 2020 Presidential elections with a “King Cake Caucus” and virtual debate watch parties. He creates a collaborative, joyful classroom culture where students work together to find solutions, verbalize their thought processes, and have time to reflect on their learning. Weisman’s approach works: His students’ geometry mastery scores topped 95% for multiple years, and during the pandemic in spring 2020, 83% of his AP Government students passed the AP exam, with 33% earning a 5, the highest score.
Advocating for Students and Families: Weisman has served as math department chair for several years and meets bimonthly with the school leadership team, where he advocates for students as well as advancing equality and supporting families in need. He created a universal calculator policy, giving all ninth graders a graphing calculator to support them through their high school STEM classes. Weisman successfully pushed for a new testing coordinator position to organize all the state, national and college preparatory exams, writing the job description and sitting on the hiring committee.
Leading Students and Colleagues in New Learning: Weisman is proficient with educational technology, so colleagues leaned on him when school shifted to virtual instruction during the pandemic. On the last day of in-person classes in 2020, Weisman gathered frazzled students and showed them how to use Zoom so they were prepared to learn from home. Committed to student engagement, he tracked students’ contributions in Zoom chats and used breakout rooms for digital icebreakers. Weisman has led professional development for Franklin colleagues and presented at the Louisiana Association of Computer Using Educators conference on using technology for grading, student collaboration and assessment, plus strategies for Zoom classrooms.
Building Community: Weisman is at the center of Franklin’s community, leading welcoming weeks for new students, announcing at sporting events, and sponsoring the Jewish Culture, Young Musicians, Mock Trial, and Spirit clubs. Determined to give the class of 2020 a proper sendoff, he organized and led a spirited drive-through graduation ceremony that students deemed better than the typical commencement.
Student Relationships: Weisman is committed to students’ success and well-being: He created a summer enrichment program to help students who struggled with math and ELA during the pandemic, holds after-school ACT prep classes, and launched an open-access food pantry as a discreet way for students in need to get food, clothing and personal hygiene items. During college exams, which Weisman knows students find stressful and daunting, he stands on his desk channeling Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society,” motivating students to believe in themselves. As they leave the room, each one jumps up to high-five a sign above the doorway with a quote from parenting expert Dr. Benjamin Spock: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”
Education: Weisman earned a bachelor’s in history and political science in 2012 from Louisiana State University.
More About the Milken Educator Awards: “The future belongs to the educated.”
Along with the financial prize, Milken Educator Award recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.
- The honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education. In addition, they will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFFs) mentoring program, in which freshman Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.
- Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.
- Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to serve in leadership roles at state, national and international levels.
- “We find you. You don’t find us!” Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards initiative has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. The most exceptional candidates are recommended for the award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.
- The $25,000 cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. For instance, some have spent the funds on their children’s or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.
Oprah, a longtime education advocate, shared her congratulations to this year’s recipients in a video message thanking “the most incredible educators around the country” and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the “tireless work” they do.
To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events or to watch the award events unfold, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook(@MilkenEducatorAwards), Twitter (@Milken), YouTube (/MilkenAward), Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn), and TikTok (@MilkenAward).
For more information, visit MilkenEducatorAwards.org or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772.