During her 12 years of teaching elementary school, Victoria Lightfoot has been singled out as teacher of the year in two different Wake County schools and as a semi-finalist for district’s top honor. Yet none of those accolades could have prepared her for the surprise at this morning’s assembly at Millbrook Magnet Elementary School, where she was handed a check for $25,000 after being named a national Milken Educator Award winner.
Lightfoot, now an instructional coach after teaching third grade most recently at Wake’s Cedar Fork Elementary School, was honored by the Milken Family Foundation and by state and local education leaders for her success with all students, her leadership with peers and her passion and commitment to education.
The Milken Family Foundation bestows the award annually – except for last year because of the pandemic – to recognize exceptional early-to-mid career education professionals. Lightfoot is one of only two honorees from North Carolina during the 2021-22 school year. Candidates for the award are identified through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.
“Victoria Lightfoot is an incredible example of how extraordinary teachers are role models for their students and colleagues alike,” said Stephanie Bishop, vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and a 2001 Milken Educator from Virginia. “As a third-grade teacher who grew to become an instructional coach, Victoria truly understands how to share what works in the classroom to bolster achievement across the school. Congratulations, Victoria, and welcome to the Milken Educator Network!”
Offering her congratulations to Lightfoot, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said she’s been an invaluable asset to the schools where she’s been a member of the faculty.
“It’s clear that Victoria’s devotion to education and her focus on powerful teaching and learning has made a measurable difference not only for her students, but also for her colleagues in their own classrooms,” Truitt said. “She inspires her students and empowers other teachers by sharing what she learns about effective instruction and how best to connect with students.
“The Millbrook school community is very fortunate to have her, and North Carolina is lucky to have her helping to lead for the kind of excellent education that all children in the state deserve.”
Cathy Moore, superintendent of the Wake County Public School System, cited Lightfoot’s outstanding contribution to the district and its students.
“For nearly 12 years, Victoria has demonstrated excellence as an elementary school teacher in our district,” Moore said. “She is positive, thoughtful, resourceful and makes meaningful and lasting connections with our young learners. Her students and colleagues know how incredible she is, and we are grateful to the Milken Foundation for recognizing her with this prestigious award.”
Lightfoot is known for her creative and culturally relevant approaches for connecting with and motivating her students, whether by integrating arts and music education into her classes or providing effective feedback to students, both in-person and during recent remote learning.
One parent told her school that during remote learning, Lightfoot was so engaging that she often wanted to just sit and listen to her read during her interactive read-alouds.
It’s not just how well she engages students, but it’s the outcomes her students achieve because of her effectiveness as a teacher. She gets results: Her students perform well on standardized tests, and their performance positively impacts her school’s overall success and progress. In 2018-19, nearly 90% of her students reached grade-level proficiency on the state’s end-of-grade reading tests; nearly 75% scored at the College and Career Ready level.
Colleagues say that she inspires students. They say students know who she is and what she stands for. They know they can depend on her. And they know she is proud of them when they speak up for themselves and when they show empathy to others.
Outside her own classroom, Lightfoot takes an active role supporting other teachers in her school and at the district level, where she’s been tapped to lead professional development and to create literacy and math lessons.
At Cedar Fork Elementary, Lightfoot took on the role of coordinator for the Beginning Teacher Mentor Program, collaborated with educators across the county and invited guest speakers for sessions that focused on practical topics such as classroom management, building relationships with students, equity, and social-emotional learning in the classroom. She also initiated a teacher “Buddy Program,” which included staff who were not necessarily beginning teachers, encouraging staff to partner together for improved outcomes for students.
Lightfoot also has written grants for the United Arts Council, served as a Discovery Education ambassador and presented at the National Science Teachers Association conference. Colleagues say she is quick to implement new knowledge and to share it with others.
She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education in 2010 and a master’s degree in K-8 math and science in 2014, both from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.
Along with the $25,000 financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 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.
In June, the honorees will attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, 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 (MFFs) mentoring program, in which freshman 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.