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Alexandria City High School Educator Receives Prestigious $25K Milken Award During Surprise Ceremony

Eva Irwin flanked by Dr. Lisa Coons, Virginia Department of Education (left) and ACPS Superintendent Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt (right) Also pictured is School Board Chair Michelle Rief in the blue coat. Lowell Milken stands next to her. (Photo: Les Machado)

ALEXANDRIA, VA-When Eva Irwin – who teaches over 100 students in five sections of 11th Grade English at Alexandria City High School – learned there would be a last-minute assembly at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, she assumed the honoree would be somebody famous. Especially after seeing Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt, the Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent, and Dr. Lisa Coons, the Virginia State Superintendent of Public Instruction, in the packed gymnasium.

“We heard all sorts of crazy things, like Denzel Washington was coming today,” Irwin told The Zebra with a laugh. “Honestly, that would have been pretty cool.”

What the assembled students, educators, and attendees found pretty cool was a surprise announcement by Lowell Milken, the founder of the Milken Educator Awards, as well as the chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation.  Irwin WAS awarded the prestigious $25,000 Educator Award, making her the first Milken Educator Award recipient in the history of Alexandria City Public Schools. A visibly emotional Irwin marveled at her selection.

Eva Irwin speaks to the assembled crowd in the ACHS gymnasium. (Photo: Les Machado)

“I’m so honored,” she said during a short speech. “I think there are so many amazing educators here that are so deserving of an award like this. I’m so honored that they see such potential in me.”

[For live footage of the ceremony, click HERE.]

The Milken Educator Awards is the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition initiative, providing public acknowledgement and financial awards of $25,000 to outstanding K-12 teachers, principals, and specialists, who are furthering excellence in education.

Along with the financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a growing group of professionals across diverse roles and disciplines, working to shape the future of education.

“Educators have the most important job in our nation, and indeed, the world: to prepare every student to advance successfully to the next stage of learning and life,” Milken said to the crowd. “During her short time at Alexandria City High School, Eva Irwin’s dedication and leadership are commendable, and making a positive impact on students, colleagues and the community. We are proud to welcome Eva to the Milken Educator Network and look forward to seeing her accomplish even greater things in the future to advance educators and students.”

Lowell Milken of the Milken Foundation announces Eva Irwin as the recipient of the Milken Educator Award. (Photo: Les Machado)

Irwin will join other honorees at the all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles in June 2024, where she will network with her new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to broaden their impact on K-12 education. Honorees also receive powerful mentorship opportunities for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy.

The Milken Family Foundation’s website states that educators cannot apply and are unaware of their candidacy. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Factors 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.

According to a press release issued by Foundation, Irwin was selected because her intentionality, positivity, enthusiasm, and solutions-oriented approach help her meet the individual needs of students both in her classroom and throughout the school. In only her first year (2022-23) at ACHS, 75 percent of students passed the state English exam, while 82 percent passed the state writing exam – both up from 68 percent in 2021-22 and above state and district rates.

Eva Irwin in reflection after the ceremony honoring her. (Photo: Les Machado)

Irwin also serves as the substitute assistant principal, the Grade 11 English team professional learning community lead, the English department’s representative on the Staff Advisory Council, a member of the school’s Culture and Climate Committee, and chair of an advisory committee working to oversee and improve the school’s fourth period block geared towards targeted, needs-based instruction. As an assistant coach, Irwin helped lead the varsity volleyball team to a state championship in 2022. She also serves as the head coach for the junior varsity team.

The cash award is unrestricted. Some recipients have spent the funds on their children’s or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children. Irwin, who graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Child Development and Education, said she will use the money to pay off the loans used to obtain a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Virginia Tech in 2021, and that doing so will allow her the freedom to pursue a Doctorate.

“We are blessed with outstanding teachers in Virginia, and Eva Irwin at Alexandria City High School is one of the best in the nation,” said Coons. “It is great to see her receive the recognition she deserves and that we could all celebrate her achievement. She is a great representative for Virginia teachers across the Commonwealth.”

To date, the Milken Family Foundation has awarded over $1,225,000 to Virginia teachers, and close to $75 million in individual financial prizes nationwide. It will recognize eductor no. 3,000 later this year.

Since Virginia joined the Milken Educator Awards program in 1999, more than four dozen Virginia educators have been recognized by the Milken Family Foundation. Other area recipients have included Philip Bigler, a teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (1999); Colin Brown, an Assistant Principal at Washington Lee High School in Arlington (2001); Deborah L. Tyler, Principal at Pine Spring Elementary School in Falls Church (2004); and Ann Lam Wong, a teacher at West Springfield High School (2009); and Elizabeth (Galinis) Cannon, a Hayfield Secondary School teacher (2013). That select fraternity now has a new member.

[SEE ALSO: Friends of Guest House Receives $2M Grant]

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