Milken Educator Awards

News Release - Juneau Principal Molly Yerkes Receives National Educator Award for Alaska

JUNEAU – Molly Yerkes has received the 2013 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award for Alaska.

Principal at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School

Molly Yerkes

Molly Yerkes, the principal at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School in Juneau, Alaska, was surprised with an unrestricted $25,000 Milken Educator Award at a school-wide assembly on Halloween.

Alaska’s Commissioner of Education and Early Development Mike Hanley joined Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president, Milken Educator Awards to present the Award, the only one given in Alaska this year. The surprise ceremony was attended by Juneau representatives Beth Kerttula and Cathy Munoz, school board members, Sally Saddler and Andi Story, district superintendent Glen Gelbrich and the staff and students of Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School.

This prestigious honor will be presented to America’s most outstanding secondary school educators in 2013. Blue ribbon committees in each of the 40 participating states recommend candidates to the Milken Family Foundation. Milken recipients are chosen for their educational talent, educational accomplishments beyond the classroom, potential for professional and policy leadership, and an engaging and inspiring presence.

Internationally educated Molly Yerkes taught English in China before becoming principal at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. An engaged educator whose support of teachers is matched by her connection to the wider community, Yerkes encourages staff to take advantage of resources available outside of the classroom. She even created a fitness program for teachers to boost morale during the dark winter months. Earning the loyalty of teachers and students alike, Yerkes has become a valuable asset to Dzantik'i Heeni through a uniquely hands-on approach.

“I really value the staff at Dzantik’i Heeni,” Yerkes says. “They work with our students one-on-one, so the more that I can include the voices of our staff in decision making, I really find that our decisions are much stronger.”

Yerkes' commitment to her teachers is on full display as she visits every classroom in the school each week to observe and evaluate both staff and student progress. Cited by colleagues for her ability to effectively communicate, Yerkes brings along her laptop on these visits, taking notes so that she can provide the best feedback to teachers and parents, should they have a question. The classroom visits have been working. Scores for all subjects at Dzantik'i Heeni are above state average for every grade level. Taking students to the next level, Yerkes promotes the AVID program, which encourages students to take advanced classes in preparation for college.

“People who know Molly and the work she’s doing here recognize she’s built a culture that supports learning,” Juneau Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said. “Student achievement is on the rise, and a lot of that speaks to Molly and her staff’s efforts to connect with individual students.”

Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School can be reached at 907-463-1899. The Milken Family Foundation can be reached at