MILTON — Perhaps the first clue for staff and students that this was no ordinary assembly at Northwestern Middle School Oct. 13 was the presence of education’s top brass, including State School Superintendent Kathy Cox and Fulton Superintendent Cindy Loe, along with other local dignitaries.
But the biggest surprise in the room was reserved for Greg Ott, a seventh-grade language arts teacher who soon realized the gathering was on his behalf.
During an all-school assembly, Ott was announced as a 2009 Milken Foundation Educator— an honor often referred to as the “Oscar of teaching” and one of the most prestigious awards in education.
Ott is one of only 55 educators nationwide to receive the 2009 Milken Educator Award, which includes a $25,000 unrestricted cash prize.
The announcement came as a complete surprise to all but a handful of people, the news kept tightly under wraps by the Milken Family Foundation, an organization known for honoring teachers who often go unnoticed but make an “impactful difference” in the classroom.
Making his way slowly to the stage as he absorbed the news of the award, Ott was visibly stunned by the announcement.
“My kids know I don’t often have a shortage of words, but this would be one of those times,” he told the crowd. “I don’t see myself as being anything other than an ordinary part of this staff. Most of the people I teach with would be just as deserving of this distinction, and I am certainly humbled.”
What makes the Milken Educator Award unique is how recipients are selected. There are no applications, no nominations or other formal procedures to get a teacher’s name in front of the foundation.
Instead the foundation relies on a blue ribbon committee in each state to forward potential recipients to the California-based organization.
“One can’t apply, we don’t accept nominations. Instead we go looking for those who are most deserving,” said Jane Foley, a representative of the Milken Family Foundation who presented the award to Ott.
Since 1987, the Milken Educator Awards have honored more than 2,400 educators from across the nation with more than $60 million in cash. The last Fulton County teacher to win the award was former Northview High School math teacher Wendy McCarron, who earned the honor in 2007.