In Alexa Guynes’ classroom at Dogwood Elementary School in Germantown, Tennessee, reading a ‘Book a Day’ keeps fifth graders excited to learn and prepares them with the skills to write their own stories. Her students engage with classroom content in new ways, from reading and voting on a treasure trove of books during Guynes’ literary March Madness tournament to preparing presentations that dive into the lives of historical heroes.
But today, Guynes herself made history when she was announced as the first Milken Educator Award recipient from the Germantown Municipal School District and the sole honoree from Tennessee this 2022-23 season. The recognition by the Milken Family Foundation comes with a $25,000 cash prize that Guynes can use however she chooses. She will join the 2022 class of up to 40 elementary educators nationwide to be recognized this school year.
"Ms. Guynes demonstrates unwavering care for every child in her classroom, said Superintendent of Germantown Municipal School District Jason Manuel. "Dogwood Elementary School has an incredible culture and she is a leader amongst her colleagues. Ms. Guynes makes learning fun and has a heart for students. She helps to challenge young minds but also helps to grow her students as people. We could not be prouder to have Ms. Guynes represent Germantown Municipal School District on a national stage as a Milken Educator."
Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Tennessee Department of Education Assistant Commissioner of Human Capital Brooke Amos presented the Award to Guynes at a school assembly in front of proud students, colleagues, local and state dignitaries, and the media. Guynes joins the Milken Educator Network of more than 2,900 outstanding educators and leaders from across the country dedicated to strengthening K-12 education.
“Alexa Guynes is a hands-on leader and mentor who goes above and beyond for her students and colleagues,” said Dr. Foley, herself a Milken Educator from Indiana's 1994 class. “By building on strong fundamentals in reading, writing and critical thinking, Alexa is preparing her students for higher-level learning and igniting their passions to change the world. Alexa lives by what the Milken Educator Awards espouse: The future belongs to the educated.”
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 specific states and schools on this year’s winners’ list remain a closely guarded secret until each Award is announced.
“Our state is so fortunate to have teachers like Alexa Guynes representing what’s best about Tennessee’s hardworking educators,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Through her inspiring work during class story time, opening their eyes to the magic of reading, her classroom is a laboratory for literacy. We are proud of her achievements and congratulate her on this much-deserved recognition.”
Over the past 35 years, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual Awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.
More About Alexa Guynes
Building Reading Foundations: Fifth grade teacher Alexa Guynes starts every day reading a picture book aloud, and her students at Dogwood Elementary in Germantown, Tennessee, gather around as Guynes shares stories. Picture books might seem too simple for tweens, but the discussions are reflective and analytical: What does this item symbolize? What can this person teach us? The daily story time makes the classroom feel supportive, nurturing and homey, and students love it. Last year Guynes and her class read 180 books, ending with “A Letter From Your Teacher” by Shannon Olsen, an emotional sendoff to middle school with parents in attendance. The read-aloud “Book a Day” project has been so successful that Guynes and her colleagues secured a grant to expand it at Dogwood and other schools in the district.
Immersive Learning: Guynes brings lessons to life in her classroom, fully engaging every student. At the end of a unit on athlete Jackie Robinson, the entire class dressed in team uniforms and headed outside for a game of baseball. Everyone dons lab coats and goggles for experiments on Mad Scientist Day. For an end-of-year project, students choose someone who broke barriers or made a difference in the world, then make posters and present their heroes’ stories. During Guynes’ literary take on basketball’s March Madness tournament, students read a varied group of books, then vote for their favorites as they watch the competition unfold on a huge poster on the wall. The Guynes Grizzlies (named for the teacher’s favorite team, the Memphis Grizzlies) focus on building writing skills in class, lining the halls with their illustrated narratives. The class breaks into small groups to discuss texts, and students know they need to cite evidence and back up their answers and assertions.
School Leadership: Guynes chairs Dogwood’s fifth grade team and is the ELA content lead for third, fourth and fifth grades. She helped the school implement its new ELA curriculum, pacing the fifth grade curriculum and enhancing lessons with strategies and activities designed to promote interaction. Guynes mentors student teachers and has served on Dogwood’s school leadership, SEL, professional development and ELA textbook selection committees. During the pandemic Guynes met with students daily on Zoom; the strong connections she had built in the classroom kept students on track and minimized their learning interruptions.
Developing Changemakers: Guynes is determined to mold students into well-rounded individuals and inspire them to change the world. She led four dozen students, many of whom had never been away from home before, on a tour of Washington, D.C., teaching them how to order at restaurants and handle money alongside visits to museums and national monuments. Guynes keeps families involved in their children’s learning, inviting them to volunteer in the classroom and communicating regularly via Schoology. Parents connect with Guynes long after their children have left Dogwood to share their academic and social successes.
Education: Guynes is a graduate of Mississippi State University and holds a bachelor’s (2014) and master’s (2021) in elementary education.
More About the Milken Educator Awards: “The future belongs to the educated.”
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.
- Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of 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.