'Oscars of Teaching' award given to Wayne alumni Jon Pickinpaugh
Milken Family Foundation
The sky's the limit when expectations are high, so that's where Jon Pickinpaugh keeps them. The Nebraska science teacher at South Sioux City Middle School provides a highly efficient individualized interactive framework for his students to monitor their own goals and progress, with clear instruction and concrete daily learning targets. He tricks out his classes with all the bells and whistles to spur student engagement including bell ringers, hands-on lessons and multimedia. Pickinpaugh's students consistently make solid academic gains thanks to his strategic and creative dedication to boosting STEM education.
But it was Pickinpaugh who got a big boost at a surprise school assembly on Jan. 11, where he was presented with a prestigious Milken Educator Award by Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Administrator Greg Gallagher. Pickinpaugh was named a 2017-18 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. He is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Nebraska this year, and is among the 44 honorees for 2017-18.
The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," has been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America's next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, "The future belongs to the educated."
Pickinpaugh has developed a multifaceted approach to enhancing science proficiency, promoting structure and flexibility, while employing both self-directed and targeted learning. In his five years at South Sioux City, Pickinpaugh has helped prioritize learning standards and built proficiency scales to ramp up academic and behavioral improvements. He has also worked with at-risk students in the high-poverty school through his after-school role as football and wrestling coach, where he's been known to spend quality time discussing life with students after practice.
"Jon Pickinpaugh is a superlative educator who aims to engage every student. His drive to make science education interesting and attainable to all is the type of leadership we see in Milken Educators," said Greg Gallagher. "And by developing learning systems that empower students and push them to push themselves, he's giving students of all backgrounds and ability levels something they may not have even known that they had: A bright future."
"Jon is a leader both inside the classroom and within the community," said Dr. Matthew L. Blomstedt, Commissioner of Education. "His dedication to improving his students academically and more importantly, as good citizens, is an inspiration."
"Mr. Pickinpaugh is one of the rare educators that has been able to masterfully blend content knowledge with the art of teaching," said Todd Strom, Superintendent of South Sioux City Community Schools. "He is able to teach science standards and also ignite the fire within students so they can continue inquiring on their own. My own child was a benefactor of his teaching style, 'demanding yet not demeaning' positively pushing each student to reach their potential."
Pickinpaugh coaches wrestling and football and believes that character education is a vital part of coaching. Athletes set self-improvement goals for competition and wear dress shirts and ties on meet days. After school, Pickinpaugh teaches students about healthy living and weight training. Spending time with his students in the weight room gives him an opportunity to talk with them about life outside of school; in the high-poverty, largely minority school, many students see him as a father figure.
Pickinpaugh earned bachelor’s degrees in business administration (2005) and education (2010) from Wayne State College.