By every account, Lisa Richard of Pioneer School is more than deserving of the Milken Educator Award that she won this week.
Richard, who teaches third grade, was the only Oregon teacher this year to receive one of the Milken awards, which often are referred to as the "Oscars of teaching."
She became the first Linn County teacher to win the honor. Recipients are sought out by the Milken Family Foundation, which sponsors the award; in other words, you cannot nominate someone for the award, which comes with $25,000 cash.
So, it came as a complete surprise to Richard on Dec. 13 when she learned, at a school assembly, that she had won the award. Very few people even knew the foundation was going to be there instead the ruse was the superintendent of Oregon schools was congratulating the school for its work in the AVID. Fortunately, they let several media in on what was really going on.
Richard is in rare company: Only about 35 or so teachers get the award every school year.
What wasn't surprising to us was when the 48-year-old Richard when she announced at least one of the plans for the cash: "I think there's going to be a really good field trip happening in third grade," she said.
In Richard's classroom, students have studied important figures in American history by dressing in costume, memorizing biographies and presenting their own living "wax museum." Classroom families gather for pizza parties in the summer. For the Lebanon Community School District, Richard helps with new teacher induction and mentoring.
When Richard learned last year many of her students had never gone camping, she and her fellow teacher, Colleen Floro, organized parents and put on an end-of-year "camping" trip for an afternoon on the school lawn, complete with tents and s'mores.
It makes for an inspiring story about an inspiring teacher.
Here's something else that's inspiring about Richard: She's a former dropout who didn't get a lot of support during her high school years. She didn't earn a GED until she was 27. She began pursuing a teaching career only after several years as a stay-at-home mom and day care operator.
As she trained for and launched what has become a very successful teaching career, earning bachelor's and master's degrees, she has been driven by the desire to make sure that no student under her watch falls, unnoticed, to the wayside.
The motto of the Milken Educator Awards is "The Future Belongs to the Educated," and that's true.
But there's something else about the power of education, and it's highlighted again by Richard's story: We sometimes tend to forget the sheer power that education has to transform lives.
Lisa Richard transformed herself, learned about her passion for teaching, through education: by buckling down and earning her GED, by earning her college degrees, at a time when she was working to raise a family as well.
And part of the magic of education in the hands of creative teachers is that it's contagious: Teachers have the power every day to transform other lives as well.
That's part of the reason why these awards are given out in a school assembly packed with kids. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Family Foundation, was on hand at the assembly at Pioneer this week, and made a reference to that when she encouraged the children in the audience to tell their parents about the event and to find other teachers to thank.
"We know some of them will go home tonight and say, 'I'm going to be a teacher just like Miss Richard,'" Foley said.
And that's how the power of education, the power held by one good teacher, can shape generations.
"All I want to do is inspire," Richard said, "and somebody noticed."
Long before the Milken Family Foundation noticed, lots of other people did as well.