Kansas City Area Teacher Receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award


Today, Vanessa Thomson, a second grade teacher at Chapel Hill Elementary in the North Kansas City School District, was presented with the national Milken Educator Award.

For more than 35 years, the Milken Educator Awards have rewarded and inspired excellence in the world of education by honoring top educators around the country with a $25,000 unrestricted cash prize. The Milken Educator Awards are hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching.” The initiative aims to reward outstanding K-12 educators for the quality of their teaching, professional leadership, engagement with families and the community, and potential for even greater contributions to the healthy development of children.

“Vanessa’s classroom is a nurturing place full of love, laughter, service to others and learning,” said Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop. “Bringing education to life, particularly for children who speak English as a second language, takes a special kind of teacher. Vanessa captivates her students’ minds and encourages them to learn from the world around them. Our heartfelt congratulations to her for receiving this honor and making history as the first teacher in the district to become a Milken Educator!”

“We are thrilled to have the Milken Family Foundation recognize one of Missouri’s exceptional teachers with this award,” said Commissioner of Education Dr. Margie Vandeven. “The hard work that Vanessa does every day to meet her students where they are and push them to the next level is truly inspiring.”

Vanessa Thomson

Thomson believes every child can learn and is an expert at differentiating her instruction to meet individual student needs. Her second graders make great strides, especially in writing. During a unit on writing odes, she works alongside her students, writing her own ode to better understand the process and work involved, and brings published poets into the class as mentors. Her classroom is rich with cultural representation, inclusive practices such as community circles and celebrations for every accomplishment, no matter the size. Thomson serves as facilitator for Chapel Hill’s leadership team, collaborating with administrators to set meeting agendas, leading discussions, and ensuring follow-up on school improvement goals and action steps. As a member of the district’s strategic plan action team, Thomson collaborates with students, parents, teachers, administrators, and business partners to develop recommendations for enhancing learning environments for all grades and redesigning professional collaboration. She mentors new and beginning teachers, modeling lessons, observing, providing feedback, and leading professional development during evenings and summers.

“Vanessa is dedicated to each individual student she serves,” said Casi Hodge, Instructional Coordinator of English Language Arts at North Kansas City Schools. “Not only does she get to know them fully in their academics, but she attends student’s activities or events outside of the school day. Years later, her students are still connecting with her and want to share their success with her by inviting her to their high school graduations.”

Thomson earned a bachelor’s in elementary education from William Jewell College in 2008, and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Baker University in 2013.


More information about Thomson, plus photos and videos from today’s surprise assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website using the following link.

About the Milken Educator Awards

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, the honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals, and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2022-23 honorees will attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum, 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.

Since launching in 1987, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.

The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children’s or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even on the adoption of children.

For more information, visit www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org.