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.

Commissioner Makin Visits Oxford Elementary in Celebration of the Week of the Young Child

As part of the Maine Department of Education’s celebration of the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Week of the Young Child, Commissioner Pender Makin visited pre-k and kindergarten classrooms at Oxford Elementary School.

The Week of the Young Child provides an opportunity to shine a light on the importance of early learning and to focus attention on the needs of young children, their teachers, families, and communities.

During Makin’s visit, Pre-K students were exploring concepts related to shadows and reflections in centers they could self-select, which included activities such as testing how light can pass through materials, experimenting with materials to see which produce reflections and which do not, and creating pieces of artwork using materials with reflective properties.

In Kindergarten classrooms, children were engaged in a unit of study focused on construction in which they were reading and discussing books related to the topic, exploring engineering concepts through hands-on activities, and working as a classroom community to design a building project that could benefit their community. In one Kindergarten class, students were designing a hotel for homeless families that included a dog park.

Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms in the Oxford Hills School System utilize whole student, interdisciplinary instructional programs that the Maine DOE, in collaboration with Maine educators, have adapted for Maine using work originally developed by the Boston Public School System.  Both instructional programs are content rich (aligned to Maine’s learning standards) and are designed around opportunity for structured play.

Oxford Elementary’s Literacy Coach, Kim Desjardins pointed out, “When we ask adults what they remember from their Kindergarten experience, most will reply they remember ‘playing’ with blocks or ‘playing’ in the kitchen. The word play is a powerful word that has been lost in our Kindergarten curriculum for many years. Young children are born to play and interact with each other. K For ME encourages students to inquire about the world, participate in deep conversations to problem solve and work with others to develop social skills. Our students love to come to school and learn!”

The Pre-K for ME and K for ME programs are open source and are used in a growing number of Maine schools, including Oxford Hills where Kindergarten teachers were part of a 2-year pilot that helped inform adaptation of the program for use by other Maine schools.

Oxford Elementary Principal, Tiffany Karnes, shared, “It is such a joy to go into a Kindergarten or Pre-K classroom and hear the conversations students are having with each other as they engage in their center work.  Whether it is in the dramatic play area or the block area, students are using their imaginations and incorporating the vocabulary they have learned.  They are building wolf dens when they are learning about animal habitats or dressing up as characters from a book that they have heard during read-aloud and acting out their story.  The level of oral language and increase in vocabulary that we are seeing far exceeds anything we have seen in the past.

Principal Karnes elaborated, “The K for ME curriculum has been a game-changer for our kindergarten students and teachers.  Prior to implementing K for ME, our kindergarten students were struggling with behaviors and were not making the academic progress we wanted.  Students were coming from a play-based Pre-K for ME classroom into a traditional kindergarten classroom and the seat time, the lack of structured play and other academic demands were very stressful for both students and teachers. Once we started to implement K for ME, we saw increased engagement, improved language development, and higher academic achievement.  Students and teachers were happier, and parents commented on how impressed they were with all that their children were learning.”

For more information about the Maine Department of Education’s early learning efforts, including Pre-K for ME and K for ME, contact Lee Anne Larsen, Early Learning Team Coordinator at

Education Commissioner Makin Visits Katahdin Elementary School and Explores Outdoor Learning Spaces

Education Commissioner Pender Makin visited Katahdin Elementary School this week to meet with students and staff and experience the growing outdoor learning opportunities at the school.

Commissioner Makin was joined by Superintendent and Katahdin Elementary School Principal Dr. Marie Robinson, who proudly introduced her staff, many of whom are graduates of the Katahdin schools. The sense of pride and community was evident throughout the building, as well as the commitment to a supportive and fun learning environment. Ms. Jaide Berry joined on the tour of the school and talked about the ways in which she uses the outdoor spaces to connect with students as part of their social and emotional skill building activities. Katahdin Elementary School has created a space where students and staff learn about restorative justice practices, including understanding how the brain works, and how to communicate effectively as valued members of the school and classroom communities.

As she greeted pre-k students on their way into afternoon classes, and learned about another class’ outdoor investigation to find signs of spring, Commissioner Makin had the privilege to thank the teachers of Katahdin Elementary School for all of their hard work and dedication to their students. After a quick tour inside, it was time to put on snowshoes and head out to investigate the amazing learning spaces on campus. The school has snowshoes, skis, and a clothing supply closet that students can access, ensuring that with the right gear, all weather is good weather for learning!

Joined by grade 2 student Bentley and grade 5 student Abbie, Commissioner Makin got to check out outdoor learning spaces, including a shelter built by grade 5 students with the volunteer assistance of a school board member, who used his military training to design a cozy and dry space, and a pond where a game camera caught the exciting adventures of a beaver family and their hut.

With a commitment that began in 2016 to getting students outdoors more, Katahdin Elementary School has developed a campus with trails, a weather station, raised garden beds, and even their own apple orchard. As schools shifted to outdoor learning spaces over the past two years as a prevention method for the spread of COVID-19, the school expanded their own offerings, and used federal relief funds to build large outdoor learning pavilions, and RREV (Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures) funds received through the Maine Department of Education for other outdoor spaces.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso Participates in Read to ME Challenge

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso recently took part in the Read to ME Challenge by reading Poppy by the author Avi to Mrs. Perkins’ fourth grade class at Canal Elementary School. Following the reading, Camuso and the students learned about and dissected owl pellets.

Maine’s Read to ME Challenge is a month-long campaign every February to promote the importance of literacy for all of Maine’s students, regardless of age. In its seventh year, the campaign sponsored by the Maine Department of Education encourages adults to read to children for 15 minutes, capture that moment via a photo or a video, post it to social media using the hashtag #ReadtoME, and challenge others to do the same.

There’s still plenty of time to join the Read to ME Challenge and February break is the perfect opportunity to grab one of your favorite stories and read to a child in your life.

Schools, families, and community organizations can find a Read to ME toolkit and resources on the Department of Education website and the Department continues to share videos, photos, and updates from the Challenge all month long on social media.

Reminder: Pre-K for ME and K for ME Program Summer Training Opportunities

Since 2018, the Maine Department of Education has adapted and piloted open-source Pre-k and Kindergarten programs based on the Boston Public School’s evidence-based Focus on K1 and Focus on K2 curricula. Our own Pre-K for ME was launched in 2019.  K for ME will be launched in August of 2021.  These programs focus on the whole child and are interdisciplinary and developmentally appropriate.  They are also aligned to Maine’s learning standards.  While Maine schools are responsible for the purchase of the materials that support the programs, the programs can be accessed at no cost via the Maine DOE’s website.  Informational overviews for each of the programs available through the following links:

Pre-K for ME Informational Overview

K for ME Informational Overview

Educators/schools/programs interested in utilizing Pre-K for ME and/or K for ME in the coming year may want to take advantage of 2-day initial trainings scheduled for this August.  These trainings are provided to promote understanding of program design and to support successful program implementation.  School administrators are strongly encouraged to attend the trainings with their Pre-K and/or Kindergarten teachers.

This year’s training opportunities will be held virtually from 8:30-3:30 on August 9 and 10 for Pre-K for ME and on August 11 and 12 for K for ME.  Registration for these trainings should be completed at the school/program level.  Principals and educators should complete one registration on behalf of their school/program.  Details about how to prepare for the trainings and the materials needed to support the programs will be provided via email after registrations are received. Registrations for the 2-day training should be received by June 30, 2021.

Registration Links:

Pre-K for ME 2-day Training Registration (August 9-10)

K for ME 2-day Training Registration (August 11-12)

For additional information about Pre-K for ME, contact, and for K for ME, contact