Emily Rice Published

Nitro Teacher Wins $25,000 Education Award

A woman wearing a green dress clutches her chest in surprise as a woman wearing a maroon top looks on.
Janna Hamrick is awarded a Milken Educator Award at an assembly at Rock Branch Elementary School.
Milken Family Foundation

In the surprise of a lifetime, Janna Hamrick, a fifth grade teacher at Rock Branch Elementary School in Nitro, West Virginia received a Milken Educator Award, often called the “Oscar of Teaching.”

Hamrick was completely unaware of her candidacy for the award of $25,000. Cheers erupted from the students and faculty filling the cafeteria as Hamrick’s name was announced by Gov. Jim Justice.

“The Milken Family makes this really a big secret, and you know the teachers can’t apply,” Justice said. “Absolutely, it is a gigantic secret. So, probably here right at this moment somewhere, where is Janna Hamrick?”

Hamrick has been teaching in Putnam County for 12 years. Hamrick earned a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education, K-6, in 2008, and a Master of Arts in secondary math education, grades 5-9, through Algebra 1 in 2011, both from Marshall University.

She said she puts her heart and soul into teaching. 

“Every single day, I come in here because I love the kids and I invest in them daily, because of that passion,” Hamrick said. “I think if I have that passion, and I treat them like that, they give me the same respect and love in return, and so they are willing to do anything. And so when I set the bar high, they go higher.”

Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop said that passion is what made Hamrick stand out to the organization.

“Miss Hamrick really stood out as being in the top one percent of educators in this nation, because of what she’s doing in the classroom, to innovate, and how she is really in tune with reaching the whole child and has connected the students in her class to the school community, but then also the community at large,” Bishop said.

According to the 2022/23 West Virginia General Summative Assessment, Rock Branch’s fifth grade mathematics proficiency is not only among the highest in Putnam County but also in the state.

Hamrick is the second and final West Virginia Milken Educator recipient this season, concluding the Milken Family Foundation’s 2023/24 West Virginia tour. She joins Ashley Wilkins-Franks who received her award on Oct. 31 in Petersburg, West Virginia.

“Janna Hamrick epitomizes the important role educators play today,” said State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt. “Her enthusiasm for learning is infectious and the relationships she builds with her students establish connections that strengthen their learning. She creates a safe learning environment and allows them to take risks and become more self-reliant. We are proud she has earned this stellar award.”

The honorees will attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Award Forum in Los Angeles, California where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken educators.

The $25,000 cash award is unrestricted. According to the Milken Family Foundation, some recipients have spent the funds on their children’s or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships and even adopting children.

When asked what she will do with the financial reward, Hamrick said she has not decided what to do with the total sum but plans to give her daughter a wonderful Christmas this year.