Jan 24, 2023
Milken Family Foundation surprises unsung heroes of education with individual $25,000 awards

(BATON ROUGE, LA) - Two exceptional Louisiana educators received the surprise of a lifetime today with an unrestricted $25,000 Milken Educator Award. Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken, joined by Louisiana Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley, presented the surprise recognition to Ascension Public Schools first grade teacher Elise Frederic and West Baton Rouge Schools fifth grade teacher Dereka Duncan.

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 season’s winners’ list remain a closely guarded secret until each Award is announced. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award.

Elise Frederic | Lakeside Primary School | Ascension Public Schools

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Young learners in Louisiana’s Ascension Public Schools make great strides in literacy thanks in part to Elise Frederic. A first grade teacher at Lakeside Primary School in Prairieville, Frederic is a resident expert in helping to meld phonics with comprehension. Her students use mirrors to visualize new phonetic skills and write words in sand or gel as they transfer new learned sounds to writing. Literacy is visible in Frederic’s room, which includes a “sound wall” that links new sounds and mouth movements, and floor tiles covered with pictures representing reading criteria. Frederic helps each child set daily goals and pairs students strategically to address their specific needs. Her laser focus on literacy delivers in spades—in 2021-22, more than 90% of her students reached mastery on district benchmark assessments in ELA, and 70% achieved mastery in math. Colleagues have adopted many of Frederic’s literacy strategies, seeing significant growth across Lakeside’s early grades as a result.

“Virtually all people can name at least one teacher who has had an extraordinary impact on their lives. Elise Frederic is that kind of foundational teacher whose care and compassion have helped shape young learners into future leaders,” said Lowell Milken. “Equally impressive, Elise is an exceptional instructional role model for her peers in the school, district and broader community.”

“Elise Frederic is an educator who stays ahead of the curve in constantly discovering new methods to improve student outcomes,” said Dr. Brumley. “By also serving as a guide for fellow teachers, every child at Lakeside Primary benefits from her dedication to her craft.”

Dereka Duncan | Cohn Elementary | West Baton Rouge Parish Schools

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Science teacher Dereka Duncan uses every opportunity to expose students to new ideas. The fifth grade science teacher at Cohn Elementary School in Louisiana’s West Baton Rouge Parish, Duncan leads hands-on investigations of coastal erosion, where students research invasive plant species, explore local ecosystems and experiment with variables that affect plant growth. Students wear white lab coats and safety goggles as they record their scientific data on clipboards or digital notebooks and use content-specific vocabulary to explain their thinking, debate which method will yield the best results and predict outcomes. Duncan has taught many subjects and weaves math and ELA into her science curriculum with ease. Cohn serves a high-need community, in which a quarter of students have identified disabilities. To address their needs, Duncan sets the bar high and delivers high-quality curriculum, supporting all students in reaching and rising above her expectations. Students who enter her class lacking confidence leave wanting to be engineers, researchers and scientists – STEM careers they had not believed to be within reach. Due in part to Duncan’s work revamping the fifth grade reading curriculum to align with Louisiana ELA standards, Cohn has reached an all-time high progress index of 90%, resulting in an A on the growth index score for the first time.

“The Milken Educator Awards were created under the strong belief that the future belongs to the educated. Dereka Duncan lives this principle every day, ensuring that her fifth graders have the skills, knowledge and experiences to lead bright futures,” said Lowell Milken. “I commend Dereka’s commitment to establishing meaningful connections with students and fellow teachers that have contributed to a nurturing educational environment for all.”

“Students do more than learn science in Dereka Duncan’s class, they participate in experiences that allow them to see themselves as scientists, engineers, and researchers,” said Dr. Brumley. “She is the type of transformational educator who will help move our state forward.”

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.

For more information, visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772.