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Members of the Chino Valley school board and district staff watch as Lowell Milken presents the Milken Educator Award to English teacher Alexis King at Ayala High. 

Ayala High teacher Alexis King was front and center in a whirlwind of excitement at her school Tuesday when it was revealed she had received the prestigious Milken Educator Award.

To the cheers of more than 2,000 people in attendance at the school gym, Lowell Milken presented the award to Ms. King on behalf of the Milken Family Foundation, which established the award in 1987. 

The award not only recognizes exceptional teachers, but also seeks to elevate the teaching profession and develop the next generation of leaders.

The Milken Educator Network includes more than 2,700 top principals, teachers, and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

Ms. King, a Chino Hills resident, was the first of 45 honorees from around the country to receive the award this year. Teachers cannot apply for the award and do not even know they are under consideration for the award, which comes with $25,000 in unrestricted funds.

Candidates are found through a confidential selection process and reviewed by state departments of education panels.

The English teacher said she hasn’t yet thought about how she will spend the money. “That hasn’t even sunk in yet,” Ms. King said.

One thing she thought about is how winning the award fits into to the bigger picture of her career.

“The cool thing is that after the excitement wears down, I’m part of the bigger world of these professionals that is beyond just me,” she said.

She was speaking about making connections with previous Milken Award winners, several of who were in attendance at the presentation.

The award includes a trip to Washington, D.C. in March, where she will network with other top teachers from around the country and meet with state and federal officials.

Ms. King teaches 11th grade AP Language and Composition and 10th grade elective AVID classes.

AVID—Advancement Via Individual Determination— is geared towards supporting students who may be the first in their families to attend college.

“I want to push my students and not make them feel like they can’t learn something. I want them to grow as young adults and to learn to be critical thinkers,” she said.

She added that students are inundated with technology and immediacy of information and, “it’s nice to pick up a book and connect with the literature.” 

Ms. King said her secret to motivating students is to engage them, often through unconventional teaching methods.

In her classes, students pair up for peer editing sessions modeled after speed dating. They also learn about the death of Julius Caesar by doing crime-show inspired investigations, according to a Milken Educator Award news release. 

Besides teaching students, she also chairs the English department and works with teachers as an instructional coach.

“I love the collaborative nature of our department. There are a lot of best practices being shared, which has paid off,” she said.  “Our department runs smoothly and is welcoming.”

This year, she is working with new teachers to make sure they feel supported in their new school environment.

Ms. King said when she first started at Ayala she had “amazing mentor teachers,” including Temple Scott, the current assistant principal of Don Lugo High. 

“She had a huge influence on me,” Ms. King said.

She said she watched the way her mentors conducted their classes and tried to learn from them.

Director of secondary curriculum Julian A. Rodriquez said Ms. King was “very collaborative and also all around well-deserving.”

“Alexis has always been a big contributor to what we are doing here in curriculum and instruction,” he said. “As department chair she reaches out to make sure her colleagues have the resources they need to do their very best.”

In 2014, Ms. King was awarded “Teacher of the Year” by Ayala teachers. She has also been chosen as “Staff Member of the Month.”

She received a “Continuing Service Award” in 2014 from Ayala’s Parent, Teacher and Student Association.

Last spring, the San Bernardino County board of education honored her along with three others as “Teacher of the Year.”

Ms. King said she also attended a banquet with a student who chose her as a favorite teacher.

Chino Valley school district spokeswoman Imee Perius sent a confidential news release to the press Monday stating that a surprise award was being given to a teacher at Ayala High.

The recipient was unknown, even to the district, until Tuesday morning.

Ms. Perius asked the media to maintain secrecy about the award until after the winner was announced.

Milken Educator Awards are traditionally presented in a surprise announcement to the teacher and the teacher’s school. 

Before the award was revealed, school principal Diana Yarboi led an assembly for students and staff about Ayala’s new sensitivity training program.

Students and teachers thought the television cameras were there for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who was in attendance.

Also present were Chino Valley Superintendent Wayne Joseph, school board and district cabinet members and city officials.

Ms. King is the first recipient from the Chino Valley school district. She attended Rancho Cucamonga High School and Cal State Fullerton, where she also earned her teaching credential.

After teaching for two years at Rancho Cucamonga High School, she started at Ayala seven years ago. Ms. King said her mother, grandfather, great-grandmother and aunts are former or current school teachers.

“It’s in the blood,” she said.

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