Two St. Louis Area Teachers Receive $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Fri 04/29/22 - 13:40

Two St. Louis area teachers were presented the national Milken Educator Award today:

  • Mark Garascia, an alternative education and credit recovery teacher at Hancock High School in the Hancock Place School District
  • Ashley LeRue Gerald, a first grade teacher at Lusher Elementary in the Hazelwood School District

For 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, their professional leadership, their engagement with families and the community, and their potential for even greater contributions to the healthy development of children.

“We are proud to welcome both Mark and Ashley into the Milken Educator family today,” said Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop. “Mark sees the good in every single one of his students and relentlessly motivates them to reach their fullest potential. Ashley uses her local roots to build deep connections with students, faculty, and families, ensuring the next generation of Lusher Elementary students will succeed.”

“Missouri is filled with so many outstanding educators, so we are thrilled that the Milken Family Foundation recognized two of our state’s exceptional teachers with this award,” said Commissioner of Education Dr. Margie Vandeven. “I am truly inspired by the work Mark and Ashley do each day to push their students to perform at the highest levels, as well as by the positive impact they each have had on the schools they serve.”

Mark Garascia
Garascia is the driving force behind the success of Hancock High School’s alternative education program called PAWS (Providing Alternative Ways to Succeed) — a credit recovery program for students at risk of not graduating. In this program, Garascia has established a culture where students are empowered to set goals, manage their time effectively, and implement motivational strategies, all of which cultivates a passion for education. He utilizes resources and technology to individualize each student’s academic experience in order to optimize success rates in the classroom. The PAWS program is developing a new generation of learners equipped with enhanced skill sets for both college and the workforce. Garascia demonstrates a sincere concern for each student’s well-being and quality of life, which has helped foster invaluable relationships built on trust. Since the implementation of the PAWS program in 2016, Garascia has maintained a 100 percent graduation rate and student attendance has increased from about 45 percent to 95 percent.

“Mark’s innate ability to make connections and build relationships with students, demonstrate genuine concern for student success, and make a real difference in the lives of students is truly remarkable,” said Hancock Place School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Carl. “Mark possesses the drive and personal traits that connect with students at their level, on their timeline, and in ways that demonstrate a genuine care for individuals, which sets him above other outstanding educators.”

Garascia earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education with a concentration in social studies from St. Louis University, a master’s degree in social science from Webster University, and a master’s degree in reading and literacy from Benedictine College.

Ashley LeRue Gerald
Gerald is a recognized leader within the Hazelwood School District, serving as Lusher Elementary’s National Education Association Representative, Chairperson of the Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) Committee, and member of the School Resolution Committee, School Community Committee, and leadership team. She founded Lusher Families in October 2017. In this program, each student is assigned a Lusher faculty or staff member and “families” meet monthly with activities that foster emotional growth and development. Lusher Families has helped to promote a positive school climate. Gerald was honored as the Hazelwood School District’s 2019-20 Teacher of the Year. Gerald is a constant mentor to staff, faculty, and students. She utilizes strategies in her classroom that are research-based, which increase student achievement and engagement. Students in Gerald’s classroom perform at higher levels due to both the high academic and behavioral expectations she sets. She maintains exceptional classroom management strategies while balancing fun and educational opportunities for her students.

“Ashley is a teacher with great compassion and empathy,” said Lusher Elementary Principal Julie Melton. “She is truly dedicated to public education and student achievement.”

Gerald earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and a master’s degree in education, both from Lindenwood University.

More information about Garascia and Gerald, plus photos and videos from today’s assemblies, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website using the following links.

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, 2021-22 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.

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