Kristi Grooms wins prestigious Milken Award - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Dutch Fork Middle School teacher wins prestigious Milken Award

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Dutch Fork Middle School teacher Kristi Grooms could hardly believe today's surprise school assembly was in her honor.

In fact, she had a hard time keeping it together after the announcement that she was the winner of an unrestricted $25,000 Milken Educator Award.

The eighth-grade Language Arts teacher and chair of the English/Language Arts department was confidentially recommended to the Milken Family Foundation by a blue-ribbon panel appointed by each state's department of education.

It's easy to be good at what you do when you work at a place like this," said Grooms. "And to my's because I love you and I want everything for you in your lives. That's why we come here everyday."

The prestigious award - presented by Dr. Mick Zais, State Superintendent of Education, and Dr. Gary Stark, CEO of NIET (National Institute for Excellence in Teaching) - recognizes Grooms' exceptional work as a model for the state and nation.

Called the "Oscars of teaching," the award is given to a select group of about 40 educators across the country each year for their exemplary classroom work.

State Education Superintendent Dr. Mick Zais said, "After the home environment, teachers are the single most important factor in the quality of a student's education. … Great teachers not only impart information, but they make learning interesting and fun. They motivate students as well as teaching them. In short, great teachers change lives every day."

Lexington-Richland School District Five Superintendent Dr. Stephen Hefner added that classroom excellence "doesn't happen by accident." "It happens because we have wonderful teachers and staff that are here to do their jobs," said Hefner. "And they do so well, day in and day out. But it goes far beyond that. We have a system here at Lexington-Richland Five that works extremely well."

Grooms is entering her 10th year of teaching, all of them have been at Dutch Fork Middle. She was the school's Teacher of the Year in 2008.

"All the things they said about teachers and the work they do are absolutely true," Grooms said.  "I'm very proud to be a teacher…I couldn't image doing anything else."

Grooms' biographical information (provided by the Milken Family Foundation):

Understanding that student engagement is critical to student success, eighth-grade English and Language Arts teacher Kristi Grooms builds relationships with her students anywhere she can—in the classroom, on the playing fields and on school publications—all efforts that pay off in student achievement. She often shows up at her students' sporting events at Dutch Fork Middle School and has served as basketball and softball coach, which she views as an extension of her classroom teaching. Grooms' students complete a soundtrack of their lives, using songs to explain who they are. The result is students who want to be in her class and parents who second the request. Under her tutelage students who have struggled in other classrooms find their academic footing in hers.

As chair of the English/Language Arts department, Grooms has jumped on the Common Core initiative, leading the school's efforts to meet state standards. In the meantime, her classroom writing scores outperform state averages by more than 8 percent and most of her students meet or exceed their MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) goals each year.

An educator for nine years, Grooms has hosted teacher cadets from neighboring high schools as well as student teachers from the University of South Carolina. New teachers at Dutch Fork are often placed on her team to learn from her best practices.

Noting how strongly her students responded to Holocaust teaching, Grooms applied for and was one of only 20 teachers selected for the Vladka Meed Summer Program for Teachers of the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance. She traveled for three weeks in Poland and Israel, and studied at the National Institute for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem. Now she uses the culturally and historically rich experience to engage her students in related literature and as a point of departure for personal growth. But Grooms wants her students to travel, too, and took the initiative to organize a trip to Washington, D.C., for eighth graders, which has become an annual tradition at Dutch Fork.

For Grooms, relationships don't end with the school year. After serving as a foreign exchange teacher in Germany, Grooms still keeps in touch with her foreign students and faculty members. Just as she doesn't forget her teachers, Grooms' students don't forget her. High school students return to discuss their college options and have her review their applications. They express pride in letting the educator who inspired them know that they are continuing to pursue academic and personal excellence.

Since 1987, the California-based foundation has presented more than $64 million to nearly 2,600 of America's top educators.

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