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Rock Branch Teacher Receives $25,000 Milken Award

Janna Hamrick, a fifth grade teacher at Rock Branch Elementary School in Nitro was surprised on Wednesday, November 1st, when she was presented with a Milken Educator Award at a seemingly routine all-school assembly. Cheers erupted from students, colleagues, dignitaries and media when Hamrick laid eyes on her oversized check, realizing she would be taking home a $25,000 cash prize to be used however she chooses.

Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop was joined by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and State Superintendent of Schools Michele L. Blatt to present Hamrick with the honor. Hamrick was completely unaware that she was a candidate for the Award.

“Talented teachers hold high expectations while maintaining a high level of student engagement, passion and respect. Janna Hamrick executes this task flawlessly and serves as a role model for others,” said Bishop, who is also a 2001 Virginia Milken Educator. “The Milken Educator Network will provide her with further opportunities to grow and will in turn benefit from her knowledge. Congratulations, Janna!”

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 October 31 in Petersburg (Grant County).

“Janna Hamrick epitomizes the important role educators play today,” said State Superintendent of Schools Michele L. 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.”

There are 75 recipients across the country this school year who will receive awards as part of the Milken Family Foundation’s Journey to the 3,000th Milken Educator. Milken Educator Award recipients are sought out while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities afforded by the Award.

Janna Hamrick’s innovative approach to education contributes to the high achievement growth of fifth grade students at Rock Branch Elementary School, a 2021 National Blue Ribbon School. 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. That is because Hamrick’s classroom is in a constant state of motion: Whether students are engaging in hands-on classroom activities like Jeopardy to master comprehension or consistently interacting with Hamrick to track their progress, they are developing skills to become solutions-driven critical thinkers. Weaving in her own personal stories and experiences, Hamrick has her eye on the whole child, skillfully humanizing the classroom and building a strong, approachable rapport with students.

Passion for Instruction: Hamrick’s energy in the classroom serves as motivation for students and teachers alike to continuously grow as learners and educators. Rock Branch utilizes the Eureka Math curriculum, an initiative that benefits greatly from Hamrick’s leadership and expertise. She researches best practices and shares her knowledge by training and presenting to teachers and schools across the county on how to implement Eureka Math in their own classrooms. Hamrick also leads professional development for her colleagues, working together to plan lessons and target strategic analysis of student data. Most notably, she has become a reliable and accessible resource for students, teachers, and parents. Ensuring that her classroom is a teamwork-driven environment, she encourages parent involvement by opening her classroom for their observation and initiating meetings before and after school to answer questions regarding her instructional methods.

Hamrick’s school-level involvement is integral to its success. She serves on the leadership team, is a member of the intermediate professional learning community, and participates on the student assistance team and safety committee. Additionally, she works as Rock Branch’s webmaster, updating the school and surrounding community with important news, events and reminders. As a member of the local school improvement council, Hamrick has helped build strong relationships with organizations and businesses and collaborates with a local church each Christmas to send boxes overseas to countries in need.

Hamrick earned a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education K-6 in 2008 and a Master of Arts in secondary math education 5-9 through Algebra 1 in 2011, both from Marshall University.

The $25,000 cash Award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. 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.

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