Blythewood, Hampton Educators Win National Honor, $25,000 Prizes

October 19, 2008

COLUMBIA, SC – October 16, 2008  –   Two South Carolina educators – an elementary school teacher and a primary school principal – got the surprise of their professional lives today with the news that they had won the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award and its accompanying financial prize of $25,000.

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex made the surprise announcements during a pair of assemblies at Lake Carolina Elementary School in Richland District 2 and at Ben Hazel Primary School in Hampton District 1.  Lake Carolina teacher Heather Bass and Ben Hazel Principal Bonnie Wilson had no idea that they were being considered for the honor.

Joining Rex for today’s announcement was Dr. J. Todd White, Milken Family Foundation senior vice president of training for the National
Institute for Excellence in Teaching.  

Dubbed the Oscars of Teaching by Teacher Magazine, the Milken National Educator Awards were created in 1985 to reward, retain and attract top professionals to the nation’s schools.  About 80 unsuspecting educators across the country are being surprised this month with the news of their $25,000 awards, which can be used any way they choose.  The announcements are being made during emotional school-wide assemblies attended by state and local officials, students, peers and community leaders.

These outstanding educators represent our profession’s best, Rex said.  They are champions of young people and ambassadors for education.  It was awesome to see their reactions today as they were recognized for the unique contributions they make every day.

The Milken National Educator Awards, created by Foundation Chairman Lowell Milken, are the nation’s largest teacher recognition program.

Since the program’s inception, more than 2,300 educators from 48 states have been recognized with more than $60 million in cash awards.

In South Carolina’s 11 years in the program, there have been 47 National Educator Award recipients from the Palmetto State whose cash awards have totaled more than $1 million.

Nothing in America’s K-12 schools has more influence on student learning than the quality of the classroom teacher, Lowell Milken said. Highly effective teachers are the bedrock in constructing a world-class education system that meets our challenges and opportunities in this 21st century. It is a national imperative that we attract, retain and motivate people of talent to the profession. America’s prosperity depends on it.

Here are profiles of South Carolina’s newest Milken educators:

Bonnie Wilson – Principal, Ben Hazel Primary School, Hampton District 1

Ben Hazel Primary Principal Bonnie Wilson is on a mission to help children move forward.  She believes in education for all students, not just those who make the school look good.  For example, while special education students may not help the school’s test scores, she sees their being mainstreamed as the right thing to do.  Her skilled leadership, attention to and analyses of student test data, and belief in the attainment of far-reaching goals make her a source of motivation to educators within her school and district.  Wilson is a committed life-long learner who provides extensive professional staff development opportunities.  Each year she chooses one goal for her school, and they all have been met. Under her guidance, Ben Hazel Primary was named a
2007 Showcase School by the Education Oversight Committee; met AYP, 2005-07; named an Exemplary Writing School, 2007-09; named a Red Carpet School, 2005-08; and earned the highest score on the South Carolina Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, 2004-05. She is a Palmetto Silver Award Recipient; a Hampton County Guardian Reader’s Choice Award winner for Best Principal, 2005 and 2006; and a finalist for the South Carolina Elementary Principal of the Year. Wilson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Charleston Southern University.  She earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Citadel.

Heather Bass, Lake Carolina Elementary School, Richland District 2

Heather Bass is described by colleagues with words like intensity, energy, unique and innovative. Because of her enthusiasm for teaching and her ability to motivate and keep students engaged, she is often assigned to students who are considered difficult to teach.   Bass quickly designs successful strategies to help these students reach their potential.   Last year, 90 percent of her students met their growth targets for MAP mathematics, and Bass’s PACT scores are consistently among the highest in the state.   Under her care, students labeled below basic move up to basic and even proficient. 

While her low-performing students progress, Bass also remains conscious of the high performers, always challenging and encouraging them.  She enjoys a great rapport with parents who are eager to volunteer in her classroom.  And she quietly shows concern for students whose families are experiencing financial or personal struggles at home, often providing supplies or using personal finances to ensure that each student is able to participate in field studies.  National Board-Certified as a middle childhood generalist, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in education from the University of South Carolina and holds a master of arts in teaching.

Next spring, recipients from around the country and their spouses, as well as many former recipients, will travel to Los Angeles to attend the Milken Family Foundation National Education Conference – three days of workshops, discussion sessions and presentations by nationally recognized scholars and practitioners in the field of education.  The Milken Education Conference will culminate in a gala evening ceremony at which the recipients will be honored and presented their $25,000 awards.

Recipients also join the Milken Educator Network, a coalition of top educators who have access to a variety of expert resources to help cultivate and expand innovative programs in their classrooms, schools and districts.
Selection of Milken recipients alternates annually between elementary and secondary educators.  This year’s recipients are elementary educators.  Next year’s recipients will be middle and high school educators.

Educators are recommended for this prestigious honor without their knowledge by a blue-ribbon panel appointed by each state’s department of education. Recipients of the Milken Educator Awards are selected on the basis of numerous criteria, including:

  • Exceptional educational talent as evidenced by outstanding instructional practices in the classroom, school and profession.
  • Outstanding accomplishments and strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership.
  • Strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership.
  • Engaging and  inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues and the community at-large.


The Milken Family Foundation was established in 1982 as a private philanthropic institution dedicated to discovering and advancing inventive ways to build human resources.  The Foundation, which creates and operates its own programs as well as providing financial support to other non-profit organizations, is involved primarily in three areas: education, medical research and health care, and community and human welfare. 

For more information, visit the foundation’s web site (