Outstanding educators who continue to learn are essential to the fostering of student growth, the improvement of schools, and the enhancement of the education profession.
2017 Alaska Milken Educator – Valerie Baalerud
Valerie Baalerud, a history teacher at Eagle River High School in Anchorage, starts every class by writing a quote from a historical figure on the board. Students copy it down, research the person and context, and then share their interpretations with the class. Baalerud treats her students like historians, demanding rigorous thought and analysis, emphasizing primary source texts and historical photographs, and helping them connect the dots between historical events and current approaches to geopolitical issues. Her AP World History students end the year by defending their top 10 events in world history and creating 1920s-style radio shows. Baalerud goes out of her way to infuse character education into her curriculum, harnessing students’ curiosity, exposing them to different points of view and challenging them to advocate for their beliefs.
In addition to AP World History – the first AP-level class open to Eagle River’s sophomores – Baalerud teaches several regular history classes, which include students hand-placed by the school’s counselors and special education teachers. Baalerud is known to work tirelessly to ensure the success of all students, even the neediest. Her AP World students score at the national average on the AP exam, and Baalerud’s overall student failure rate is zero. The chair of the history department, Baalerud has coached Model United Nations, flag football and track; led the school’s celebration of National History Day; and advised Eagle River’s student government. She also coaches the Drama, Debate and Forensics (DDF) club and produces some of the most competitive debaters in the district. Seniors chose Baalerud to give their graduation address in just her third year of teaching.
Baalerud is involved in curriculum development for both the building and the district; peers often consult her when planning lessons and adopting innovative teaching strategies. When she became concerned about the influence of social media and technology on teenagers’ communication and cognitive development, Baalerud led a professional learning community to explore the research; the district is using her input to create a policy on student use of cell phones. She is an outspoken advocate for fair budgeting for public education, a trait that appears to run in the family—her oldest daughter currently sits on the Anchorage School District school board as its student advisor.
Baalerud earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 2011 from the University of Alaska Anchorage.
- Program Coordinator
- Cecilia Miller: (907) 465-8703
Recent Alaska Milken Educators
- 2016 - Paul Campbell, 1st and 2nd Grade Teacher, Chester Valley Elementary School, Anchorage School District
- 2014 - Jenna White, Physical Education Teacher, Orion Elementary School, Anchorage School District
- 2013 - Molly Yerkes, Principal, Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School, Juneau School District
- 2011 - Matthew Elfstrom, Math and Science Teacher, Romig Middle School, Anchorage School District
All Alaska Milken Educators Profiles
Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson himself is a Milken Educator. He received his award in 2008 as the Principal of Glennallen Elementary School in the Copper River School District.
About the Milken Educator Award
The Milken Family Foundation, in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development, sponsors the Milken Educator Awards program. Alaska has participated in the program since 1990. Since then more than 65 Alaska teachers and principals have received the honor. In addition, 44 other states also team up with the Milken Family Foundation to honor educators annually. The program recognizes both elementary and secondary educators, but annually alternates the award program between both groups. The program’s goal is to elevate the education profession by increasing public recognition and support of outstanding educators.
Following guidelines established by the Milken Foundation, the Department of Education & Early Development sets up a process to identify and evaluate educators for the award. The department then appoints a blue ribbon review team to make final recommendations. The Milken organization makes the final selections based on the team’s recommendations. The program includes neither an application nor a nomination procedure. Predetermined criteria for the award include expert pedagogy; distinguished achievement in developing innovative curricula; outstanding ability to instill students with sound values; and commitment to professional development and excellence.