Nevada Department of EducationNevada Department of Education

    Two Washoe County School District Teachers Honored with National Milken Educator Awards and $25,000 Each

    Nevada Superintendent Jhone Ebert was joined by Governor Joe Lombardo and Lowell Milken to surprise teachers at schools

    February 07, 2023

    CARSON CITY, Nev. - Teachers at two different schools in the Washoe County School District were astonished when they became the focus of what they thought were typical assemblies. Mr. Jason Murray at Florence Drake Elementary and Ms. Liz Barnum at Katherine Dunn Elementary were each surprised with a Milken Educator Award and its unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.

    "Teachers are the number one factor in student success and these teachers are second to none," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert. "Jason Murray and Liz Barnum are out there every day, leading their school communities and inspiring their students to greatness. They are both absolutely deserving of this recognition and I am thrilled to celebrate them and their accomplishments."

    The Milken Educator Award provides public recognition and unrestricted financial awards of $25,000 to outstanding K-12 teachers, principals, and specialists who are furthering excellence in education. State Superintendent Jhone Ebert was joined by Governor Joe Lombardo and Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken himself to honor Mr. Murray at Florence Drake Elementary School before all three headed to Katherine Dunn to honor Liz Barnum for the positive impact each teacher has made on students' lives and the culture and climate of their schools.

    "Mr. Jason Murray and Ms. Liz Barnum are perfect examples of educators who go above and beyond for our students," said Governor Lombardo. "I'm pleased to recognize these deserving teachers and express my gratitude for their tireless work."

    "Through his active engagement, impressive results, and effective leadership in and out of the classroom, Jason Murray is making an indelible impact on students, colleagues, and the community," said Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken. "What's more, Jason has already demonstrated himself as a champion for motivating other capable people to join the profession. It gives me great pleasure to welcome Jason into the national Milken Educator Network of excellence, where he will have the opportunity to expand his reach."

    "Liz Barnum provides her students with the skills and experiences to become problem-solvers and independent thinkers, which will serve them well in every stage of their education, and in life," said Milken Educator Award Founder Lowell Milken. "She is a strong instructional leader and model of excellence in the school and community at large. I commend Liz on her accomplishments today and look forward to her future contributions as a national Milken Educator. Congratulations."

    More About the Recipients

    • Mr. Jason Murray teaches third and fourth grades at Florence Drake Elementary School in Sparks, Nevada, where he designs interactive lessons with embedded technology to keep students engaged. He championed and helped implement "Walk to Learn," a schoolwide effort to support student growth in which teachers work with all students and share ownership of student outcomes. Both Murray's students and the school as a whole have made great strides thanks in part to Murray's work building instructional excellence. Between 2018 and 2022, Drake Elementary's ELA proficiency rose from 48 to 70 percent, and math proficiency rose from 37 to 59 percent. In the 2021-22 school year, Murray's students' math proficiency rate of 82 percent was the second highest among the district's Title I elementary schools. These results contributed to Drake Elementary's achievement as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2022.

    Known as a collaborative colleague and role model, Murray has served as a mentor teacher, works with student teachers, and earned an endorsement in gifted and talented education. He sits on Drake's leadership, reading week, and field day committees and helps plan schoolwide events.

    Murray builds strong relationships with students and families, intent on understanding each child's strengths, weaknesses, likes, and interests. He communicates regularly with parents through Classroom Dojo and email. Students trust him and know he is focused on their well-being, both academically and emotionally.

    • Ms. Liz Barnum is a third-grade teacher at Katherine Dunn Elementary School in Sparks, Nevada. Barnum focuses on meeting each child's individual needs and uses data to drive her instruction, creating engaging lessons that challenge the class and spur a love of learning. Barnum's instructional strategies reflect Katherine Dunn's mission to "develop proficient readers, writers, and problem-solvers who practice divergent thinking." Almost all of Barnum's students meet grade level by the end of the year, regardless of where they started. Their SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) proficiency rates are among the district's highest: In grade 3, her students placed within the top five percent in math proficiency and ranked third in ELA proficiency among the district's Title I schools.

    Barnum leads Katherine Dunn's third grade professional learning community (PLC), examining data with colleagues to plan future instruction. Washoe County School District is focusing on PLCs as part of a districtwide strategy to spread and scale instructional excellence and equity. Barnum, whose team has become a model for the district, shares key learnings so others can become more effective in their own classrooms. She mentors new and student teachers and serves as a teacher leader in the School Performance Plan process, a collaborative annual effort by education leaders and families to revise the school's strategic plans to improve student and school outcomes.

    Barnum builds strong relationships with students and families. She communicates with families frequently about their children's strengths and achievements, and parents often visit Barnum's classroom for student-led conferences, projects, and presentations.

    More About the Milken Educator Awards in Nevada"The future belongs to the educated."

    Since the Milken Educator Award program began in Nevada, 90 educators have been recognized in the State and received a total of $2,250,000 in cash prizes.

    Along with the financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 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 in Los Angeles in April 2023, 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 (MFF) mentoring program, in which new 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.

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    About the Nevada Department of Education

    The Nevada Department of Education (NDE) leads and collaborates with Nevada's 17 school districts and the State Public Charter School Authority to advance educational equity Statewide. With offices in Carson City and Las Vegas, NDE oversees all pre-K-12 education in the State, working to achieve its mission to improve student achievement and educator effectiveness by ensuring opportunities, facilitating learning, and promoting excellence. Under the leadership of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, NDE impacts the achievement of nearly half a million children and 30,000 educators. Learn more about NDE and join us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

    About The Milken Educator Awards

    The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. The awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals, and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. The initiative was created by the Milken Family Foundation, which celebrates 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at


    Elizabeth Callahan
    Public Information Officer