Alumna earns national teaching award

Image of Sarah Compton in her classroom, holding papers at the front of the room.Sarah Compton, ’11, received the Milken Educator Award, a national teacher excellence award.

Student stock market pays dividends for ME-PD graduate, Milken Educator Award recipient

In Alumna Sarah Compton’s fifth-grade class at Northside Elementary in Monroe, Wisconsin, the student stock market is up.

So is student achievement.

Compton’s student stock market project teaches critical thinking and economic concepts as students invest an imaginary nest egg and manage individual portfolios. The engaging project is just one of many lessons Compton has created to encourage hands-on learning no matter how abstract or elevated the material gets.

Compton’s innovative work in the classroom hasn’t gone unnoticed. The 2011 graduate of UWL’s Master of Education-Professional Development program (part of UWL’s Professional Studies in Education) was presented the Milken Educator Award Friday, Feb. 22, during a surprise assembly at her school.  As the 2018-19 recipient of the national award, she received $25,000. She is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Wisconsin and is among the 33 honorees for 2018-19.

As the big secret was being unveiled, Compton says she had a list of possible names of other exceptional educators in the building running through her head. She hadn’t considered herself. When her name was announced, she felt a rush of adrenaline.

“Standing in front of my students and colleagues, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and appreciation,” she says.  “I’m so lucky to be a teacher and so grateful for this recognition.”  

Compton says she frequently uses the strategies, resources, and best practices she learned about in her UWL Master of Education-Professional Development cohort in her fifth grade class.

“One thing that still resonates with me is how to incorporate student choice, which improves behavior, motivation and retention,” she says. “I use layered curriculum in reading, which empowers my students to choose their method of learning, their pacing, their collaborative partnerships, and their end product for assessment. Layered curriculum allows me to take on the role of a facilitator, while still making sure my students are working within our content standards.”

Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher and Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Carolyn Stanford Taylor presented the award.

“Teachers who can build strong, personal relationships with their students are always successful at knowing how to unlock a child’s fullest potential,” writes Stanford Taylor in a prepared statement. “Sarah Compton’s efforts to tailor learning through choices and relationships are a model for others to follow.”

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” reward great teachers and also celebrate, elevate and activate innovators in the classroom who are guiding America’s next generation of leaders. Educators cannot apply for the Milken Educator Award nor do they know they are being considered. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and are reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. The most exceptional individuals are recommended for the award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Compton stresses independence and self-reliance in her students. She not only uses data to differentiate her students’ lessons, she also coaches colleagues through data analysis and individualized instruction planning. She sits on building and district committees and frequently leads professional development on responsive classroom practices, math and literacy.

“Sarah Compton knows that each student has a unique path and interests,” said Gallagher. “Helping them get excited about learning is her special gift, and we are proud to welcome her as a Milken Educator.”

Monroe District Administrator Rick Waski calls Compton “one of the most talented young educators I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.” “Her ability to use student data to drive personalized, engaging instruction for every child is second to none,” he says.

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. The 2018-19 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans from March 21-24, 2019.

About Sarah Compton’s classroom

Through a series of project-based lessons on financial literacy, Sarah Compton’s students explore concepts of spending, saving, sales tax, discounts and interest. Next, they learn about the stock market, including how to choose companies for investment based on data trends and current events. They track an imaginary $10,000 investment as a group, then move to a friendly competition as individual students try to grow their pretend portfolios. Along the way, students practice computing with large numbers and decimals, calculating percentages, graphing and estimation. In another popular unit, students create public service announcements on issues facing today’s teens: obesity, texting while driving, high school dropout rates and cyber-bullying. A vibrant classroom presence, Compton is dedicated to maximum growth for students at all levels and provides engaging and relevant instruction. Her students deliver among the highest growth scores in the district.

Compton seeks innovative instructional solutions and is always willing to try something new to spur student achievement, access and equity. A leader for her grade level and within the building, Compton studies data to build individual learning plans for each student and helps other Northside teachers use data to differentiate their instruction. She designs curriculum and creates formative assessments for the district. Compton sits on Northside’s leadership committee and has served on district committees for math and literacy. She mentors colleagues in both content-area mastery and assessments, developing a district model to help teachers engage in peer-to-peer support and cross-coaching. Compton frequently leads professional development for the district on responsive classroom practices, math and literacy.