Winterport Teacher Hillary Hoyt Receives Milken Educator Award at Surprise School Assembly

In a surprise assembly earlier today, Hillary Hoyt, a third grade teacher at Leroy H. Smith School, received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for her commitment to creativity in the classroom, focus on prioritizing children’s individual needs to improve learning outcomes, and leadership both at her school and in her community.

Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop and Maine Deputy Commissioner of Education Dan Chuhta surprised Hoyt with the honor before cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials, and the media. Hoyt is one of only two educators in Maine and among more than 60 nationwide to receive the recognition during the 2021-2022 school year. She is the first recipient awarded in the RSU 22 School District.

Hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken Educator Awards celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it.

“Hillary Hoyt is a leader, both in her classroom and in her community, and she exemplifies the qualities of a Milken Educator: innovation, creativity and inspirational leadership,” said Bishop, who herself is a 2001 Milken Educator from Virginia. “Her innovative approach to education is creating a pathway to success for each student in her classroom, and for that, we celebrate her here today.”

The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. 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.

“Hillary Hoyt’s passion and dedication to her students, school, and community is truly awe inspiring,” said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin. “Her interdisciplinary teaching approach engages and excites her students and fosters a love of learning. Hillary is a trusted mentor and a leader in sharing her innovation and creativity with other educators. She also finds ways to support students and families beyond her classroom, whether as a dance instructor or providing free books to children over the summer. The Maine Department of Education is so proud to join the Milken Family Foundation and the entire RSU 22 community in honoring Hillary with this well-deserved recognition.”

Oprah, a longtime education advocate, shared her congratulations to this year’s winners in a video message shared earlier this year thanking “the most incredible educators around the country” and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the “tireless work” they do.

Hoyt said she was honored and humbled to receive the award. Asked why she went into teaching, Hoyt said, “I wanted to be a teacher because I had some wonderful teachers who showed me what it means to have someone looking out for you every day and showing that I belonged and mattered. I wanted to do the same.”

More about Hillary Hoyt:

Commitment to Creativity: Hoyt’s unique lessons help her third graders build skills for their future success. During the “Million-Dollar Project,” students learned about financing and interest rates as they took out “loans” to buy a house and car, save for college, and fund their day-to-day expenses. Hoyt set up a section of her classroom as a winter wonderland where students could earn time in the ice rink, ice shack and snow mountain by demonstrating good citizenship, according to expectations the children developed together. Hoyt goes to great lengths to hold students’ interest, whether by dressing as a dinosaur when leading a unit on prehistoric life or transforming her room into the sea, with students as jellyfish.

Prioritizes Children’s Individual Needs: Hoyt’s lessons stress innovation, collaboration and independent thinking, encouraging students to tap their imaginations even as they learn important executive functioning skills. She does whatever is necessary to prioritize children’s learning needs. Hoyt digs through data to track student progress, making quick plans to differentiate and reteach those who need extra help, and adding enrichment for those who are ready for more. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Hoyt has flipped her classroom and incorporated new technology, including Flipgrid, Jamboard, Google Classroom and video production. Her students continuously demonstrate growth on state assessments and learn to love education.

Serves as Mentor, Leader: Hoyt is the district’s elementary science teacher leader and has served on district and school committees for math, writing and reading, as well as a state committee writing ELA standards. She mentors student teachers and worked with colleagues to make a series of math videos in preparation for the start of the 2020-21 school year. Hoyt has attended the summer teacher academy at Schoodic Institute, worked on science curriculum with the University of Maine’s RISE Center, and published lessons on the Maine Department of Education’s MOOSE platform, which offers asynchronous learning modules for educators, students and families. She delivered a lesson on weather and natural disasters for The Learning Space, a collaboration between educators and Maine Public Television aimed at students who lack internet access.

Enthusiasm for Extracurriculars: A leader in the Leroy H. Smith community, Hoyt provides free books to students each summer through a partnership with Literacy Volunteers of Maine and Darling’s Ice Cream for a Cause. Her class designs a table based on an author they are studying for the annual Literacy Tea of Bangor. Hoyt played an integral part in WinterKids, which promoted winter outdoor activities for families, and chaired the school’s Family Fun Night. Outside of school, she teaches cheer and dance to college students and children, including Girl Scouts working on their dance badges.

Education: Hoyt earned a bachelor’s in elementary education from the University of Maine Orono in 2013 and earned National Board Certification in 2018.

More information about Hoyt, plus links to photos and video from today’s assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at:

More about the Milken Educator Awards: “The future belongs to the educated.”

Along with the financial prize, Milken Educator Award 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 also 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.
  • Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.
  • Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to serve in 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.