Like the other teachers, students and staff at Burrell High School, Meghan Nese thought the schoolwide assembly was going to be a visit from acting state education secretary Carolyn Dumaresq.
All of them had been told the recent assembly was going to be “something big,” but Mrs. Nese didn’t know that it would be big for her personally.
Mrs. Nese was the recipient of the 2013 Milken Educator Award, a prestigious honor usually given to just one state winner per year. And in keeping with the Milken tradition, the award was a complete surprise to everyone but the school principal, John Boylan.
“He knew, of course, because he had to help arrange everything, but he was the only one. It was a total and complete shock,” Mrs. Nese said.
The awards are determined by the foundation, according to Jana Rausch, manager of media and public affairs for the Milken Family Foundation.
“We work with each [state] Department of Education to identify the nominees, and then the foundation chooses the winners. It is a highly confidential process,” she said. Guidelines for the nominees are not released, but the foundation chooses educators who are at the mid-level of their careers and who make a difference inside and outside of the classroom, Ms. Rausch said. The foundation usually gives one award per state, although that varies each year.
Mrs. Nese has been teaching at Burrell for 16 years and comes from a family of educators. Her father, David Pastrick, is a principal in West Virginia, and her grandfather, Michael Cvejkus, is a retired English teacher. She began teaching at Burrell right after she graduated from Allegheny College.
“I was so lucky. This is my first job right out of college and I’ve been here ever since,” she said.
Mrs. Nese said her father decided to pursue a teaching career at the same time she did, leaving his first career as a youth minister.
“We often joke that we started teaching at the same time,” she said.
In addition to teaching ninth-grade English and serving as the English department chairwoman, Mrs. Nese is the adviser to the Interact Club, a service organization, and she tutors students.
When the award announcement was made at the school in January, Mrs. Nese said she was speechless.
“I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and when I finally realized it was me, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
She couldn’t wait to tell her father and her husband, Joe Nese, but was so busy with the activities associated with the award that all she could do was send a quick text. When she finally had the chance to contact them later in the day, they both already had heard the news from others.
“Of course, they were both so happy,” she said.
As part of the honor, Mrs. Nese won $25,000 to spend any way she wishes.
“In August, we are going to take our kids to Disney World. I also want to do something for the school, then the rest I will save,” she said.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer, email@example.com.