Randy Yohe Published

Grant County Teacher Receives Milken Educator Award

Surprised young woman with her hand over her heart.
English language arts teacher Ashley Wilkins-Franks wins a Milken award.
Milken Family Foundation

Cheers rang through the Petersburg High School gym Tuesday morning as students, educators, and state and national dignitaries gathered to celebrate English language arts teacher Ashley Wilkins-Franks. She just found out she was one of 75 Milken Award winners around the country.   

Called the “Oscars of Teaching,” the Milken Family Foundation honors top educators annually. The awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. 

Wilkins-Franks said her dedication to getting students engaged, using proven classroom and instructional strategies, means teaching kids from all walks of life, with different backgrounds and ethnicities. 

“Becoming engaged with all of those students, no matter what their ability level, or language proficiency, or any of those things is very paramount into their success,” she said. “My students know when they walk in my room that we are going to work from the time the bell rings to start class until the time the bell rings to stop class. And I do have very high expectations for them.”

Wilkins-Franks facilitates Socratic Seminars, where students engage in respectful, high-level discussions on their varying interpretations of classic literature. Using Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Wilkins-Franks guides students through character trials, during which they act as prosecutors and debate whether the main character of the story is guilty, building their presentation skills and curriculum competency. 

Wilkins-Franks said all educators must realize people never stop learning or adapting to the future. 

“Especially after COVID-19,” she said. “That changed the entire landscape of what education looks like in public education and private education as well. And so now we’re pivoting again, to fill those gaps that students don’t have coming out of and also trying to make sure that we are preparing them for real life and college and trade schools and the workforce.”

Asked about her $25,000 prize, Wilkins-Franks said she has no idea yet what she will do with the money. 

“This has all been a whirlwind,” she said. “I still feel like I’m going to wake up from a dream in 10 minutes, and this has been a figment of my imagination.”

It’s no dream. Wilkins-Franks and all 2023 Milken honorees will attend an all-expenses paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles in June 2024. There they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to broaden their impact on K-12 education.