Clinton Elementary Assistant Principal Abbey Kidwell Gets Surprise of a Lifetime with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Abbey Kidwell clinches Tennessee’s sole “Oscar of Teaching” for 2023-24 during

Milken Family Foundation’s coast-to-coast tour

:Santa Monica, Calif. (March 28, 2024) — Clinton Elementary School Assistant Principal Abbey Kidwell is organized to a tee as she greets hundreds of students every morning, observes classrooms, and helps to drive professional development with colleagues. Yet nothing could have prepared Kidwell for the exciting news announced at today’s all-school assembly: She is Tennessee’s 2023-24 sole recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize she can use however she pleases.

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Lizzette Reynolds joined in the presentation of the Award to Kidwell alongside Dr. Joshua Barnett – CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) who represented the Milken Family Foundation today.

“Clinton Elementary School is fortunate to have an instructional leader like Abbey Kidwell,” said Dr. Barnett. “With her blend of classroom experience and exemplary mentorship, Abbey works diligently with Principal Jenna Sharp and the school leadership team to ensure students and educators alike reach their highest potential. Joining the Milken Educator Network will provide a powerful opportunity for Abbey to connect with nearly 3,000 of America’s most talented educators, elevate her practice, and broaden her impact on the profession.”

Kidwell was not only unaware that today’s event was organized for her, but also had no clue that she was even considered for the Award. The Milken Family Foundation scours the nation to acknowledge outstanding unsung heroes for their excellence and leadership in the profession. Recipients are sought out while early to mid-career for what they have achieved – and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities afforded by the Award.

“Congratulations to Ms. Kidwell on representing the state of Tennessee by receiving the prestigious Milken Educator Award,” said Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds. “This well-deserved award is a testament to the impactful service and leadership she demonstrates to her students, community and the educator profession.” 

Kidwell is among up to 75 recipients across the country who will be honored as part of the Milken Family Foundation’s historic, nationwide tour reaching the presentation of the 3,000th Milken Educator in 2024. Hailed as the “Oscars of Teaching,” 2023-24 will reach $75 million in individual financial prizes spanning the length of the initiative and more than $144 million invested in the Milken Educator Award national network overall, empowering recipients to “Celebrate, Elevate, and Activate” the K-12 profession and inspiring young, capable people to pursue teaching as a career.

More About Abbey Kidwell

Trusted, Talented Instructional Leader: Rain or shine, Abbey Kidwell spends her mornings greeting students and families outside of Clinton Elementary School, where she serves as assistant principal. A former fourth grade teacher, Kidwell draws from her own classroom experience to guide her as an instructional leader. She oversees the Response to Intervention (RTI) program, visiting classrooms to address students’ individual needs and collaborates with the district instructional coach, the English language arts (ELA) coach and the math coach to help students reach their maximum potential. Advocating for the whole child, Kidwell helps to select students in each grade for the Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps (TN ALL Corps) program. By monitoring data meetings and follow-ups for hundreds of students, she pinpoints where extra supports may be needed and directs action plans. Kidwell’s work has contributed to Clinton Elementary’s consistent designation as a Tennessee Reward School for academic growth.

Mentor at the School, District and State Level: Kidwell is an integral part of Clinton Elementary School’s comprehensive educator leadership and support structure, implemented through a partnership with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET). A thoughtful, informed decision-maker on the school’s leadership team with the principal and teacher leaders, Kidwell helps drive professional development, collaboration and mentorship across her school and district. Kidwell is always on the move, supporting new and veteran teachers alike by providing meaningful feedback on best practices and helping supervise the transfer of learning to the classroom. As leader of the district’s new teacher academy, she creates a syllabus, provides regular trainings and check-ins, brings in presenters, and participates in site visits. Her impact has led to exciting opportunities to share her expertise on a broader level, including serving on former Governor Bill Haslam’s Teacher Cabinet and School Safety Working Group as well as presenting at the 2023 NIET National Conference on increasing the effectiveness of district instructional learning teams.

Model Community Member:
 A positive force and role model in the community, Kidwell presents to members of the Chamber of Commerce during their visits to Clinton and works closely with the Rotary Club. She expresses her dedication to students daily during her morning announcement: “If nobody has told you, remember that I love you today.”

Education: Kidwell earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Carson-Newman University in 2011 and a master’s degree in leadership and supervision from the University of Tennessee in 2019.

More about the Milken Educator Award Journey: “The Future Belongs to the Educated”

·       The honorees attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles this June, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to broaden their impact on K-12 education.

·       Honorees receive powerful mentorship opportunities for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. Milken Friends Forever (MFF) pairs a new recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor; the Expanding MFF Resource and Explorer Program fosters individual veteran Milken Educator partnerships around a specific topic area; and Activating Milken Educators (AME) promotes group collaboration in and across states to tackle pressing educational needs.

·       Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of leadership roles at state, national and international levels.

·       The $25,000 cash Award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. Some recipients have spent the funds on their children’s or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.  

Follow the Milken Educator Awards tour and use the #MEA3K and #MilkenAward hashtags on: Facebook (MilkenEducatorAwards)| X (Milken)| YouTube (MilkenAward)| Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn)| LinkedIn (MilkenFamilyFdn)| TikTok (MilkenAward).

Visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772 for more information.


About the Milken Educator Awards
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. Created by Lowell Milken, the Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals, and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. The Milken Family Foundation celebrates more than 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at

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