“They got all the way up to $25,000 and I'm sitting there, and I'm thinking, wow, some lucky teacher will go home with that money. And then, when they announced the name, and the camera and all eyes were on me, that's when I learned that I was the recipient of the award.” —Victoria Lightfoot
Victoria Lightfoot is a superstar educator. This past May, Victoria—a newly inducted A+ Fellow and an instructional coach at Millbrook Elementary, in Wake County—was awarded the Milken Educator Award. Known as the “Oscars” of teaching awards, this prestigious recognition comes with a $25,000 check, a trip to Los Angeles, and professional development support.
The Milken Educator Award targets early- to mid-career education professionals for their impressive achievements and, more significantly, for the promise of what they will accomplish in the future. There is no application or nomination process. The Milken Family Foundation takes pride in its ability to search the country for top-performing educators. Since 1987, it has made awards to more than 2,800 of them. This year, Victoria is one of 60 recipients nationwide recognized.
“Victoria is a creative, collaborative educator who has already shown that her experience and expertise are a great fit for our high-quality group of A+ Fellows,” said Michelle Burrows, A+ Schools Director. “We are thrilled that one of our A+ Fellows has now been honored for all of her accomplishments so far in the field of education. It’s wonderful that the Milken Foundation is valuing and inspiring educators through their awards.”
Victoria Lightfoot is a veteran elementary school teacher who built a reputation for implementing culturally relevant and arts-based pedagogies in her classrooms, techniques she was able to develop through her commitment to the A+ philosophy and to the arts. Surprisingly, Victoria almost didn’t attend college. “I was in anatomy physiology class, and my teacher said, ‘Victoria, what college are you going to?’ and I was just like, ‘Oh, I'm not going to college,’” Victoria said in a recent Zoom conversation. Surprised by her answer, her science teacher instructed her to research up to three universities she was interested in and promised to check back in. “I was thinking, yeah, lady, you don't know my home life. You don't know my background. You don't know that my family can't afford it,” Victoria said. Within a few weeks, though, Victoria was offered a full scholarship to Slippery Rock University, in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, to become a teacher. Although becoming a teacher wasn’t in her plans or a childhood dream as it was for many educators, the trajectory of her career path from the beginning tells her that she was called to teach. At the time she had that conversation with her science teacher, she was the first student in the Youngstown, Ohio, city school system to sit on the board of education. “When the scholarship was offered, I thought, oh, that'll be great. That aligns with what I'm already doing,” Victoria said. In her new role as an instructional coach, Victoria works directly with K-5 teachers, observing lessons and providing feedback for ideas and strategies that they can implement in their classrooms.
It wasn’t long before Victoria’s professors noticed that teaching and engaging with others came naturally to her. At Slippery Rock, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education in 2010 and a master’s degree in K-8 math and science in 2014. Over the course of her 12-year career at various schools, Victoria has been nominated for the A+ Educator of the Year award and she received nominations for Teacher of the Year twice.
In addition to being honored by the Milken Foundation for her exemplary educational accomplishments, as one of A+ Schools of North Carolina’s newest cohort of A+ Fellows, Victoria will provide professional development training for the network of A+ schools and partner organizations. In thinking about her work as a new A+ Fellow with A+ Schools of North Carolina, Victoria expressed her excitement about working with teachers and facilitating professional development through the arts. “I really enjoy showing other educators strategies, tips, and techniques that can assist in providing meaningful, rigorous, relevant instruction,” she said.
Established in North Carolina in 1995, the A+ Schools Program is the longest-running, arts-based whole-school reform model in the nation and a signature program of the North Carolina Arts Council. A+ Schools develop a creative culture in which the state's mandated curriculum is taught through collaboration and multi-discipline integration, with the arts continuously woven into every child's learning experience.
Acknowledging that she is a lifelong learner, Victoria said she takes her inspiration from Michelle Obama. “When people ask us what do we want to be we say one thing, but we can be many things,” she said. “And so when I think about the future, I see many things. I could see myself being a principal at some point. I can see myself as a professor. I can even see myself maybe being on a board of education—maybe a superintendent. The possibilities are endless.”