The Learning Curve: Milken Foundation surprises local educator with national award
MISHAWAKA, IND— A Michiana principal surprised with the honor of a lifetime.
The Milken Educator Award is considered the “Oscar Award” of teaching.
March 16th, 2022.
“I came to tell you a secret,” said Senior Vice President of the Milken Educator Awards, Dr. Jane Foley.
Two weeks ago, life changed for one local educator.
“My understanding was that Dr. Jenner was coming to visit the school. And you know, I suppose I just kind of believe that she is the Secretary of Education, part of her job is getting into schools,” said Ryan Towner, the principal of Walt Disney Elementary School.
But Principal Towner didn’t get the full story.
“The Milken award is so prestigious they call it the Oscars of Education,” said Dr. Foley.
Little did Towner know, that someone’s life in his elementary school was about to change forever.
“In Indiana we have 80,000 current teachers and administrators, 80,000. Out of all those people wins the award, one,” said Dr. Katie Jenner, the Indiana Secretary of Education.
And one of those 80,000 Hoosier educators is Principal Ryan Towner.
“This is my fifth year as principal at Disney. And prior to that I was principal at one of our other elementary schools for two years. And before that, I was here as the assistant to the principal and before that I taught fifth grade,” said Principal Towner.
Ryan Towner has worked in the Penn-Harris-Madison school system for over a decade.
The same school system he attended as a student himself.
“I always knew that schools were positive places I went, I'm a product of PHS I went to Bittersweet Schmucker. And then I graduated from Penn high school, I had a really good school experience,” says Principal Towner.
A really good experience that he strives to pass down to his students and staff every day.
So when Indiana’s Secretary of Education and representatives from the Milken foundation showed up to his school, Towner was confident that the winner would be well deserving.
Principal Towner just didn’t know that the winner was going to be him.
“The Milken Educator Award goes too…your principal Ryan Towner!” said Dr. Foley.
Overcome with emotion, Ryan Towner gladly accepted his award.
“I was totally shocked when they were you know, Dr. Foley did an excellent job really building up the excitement for this award that someone in this gymnasium a staff member here at Disney is going to get this award? And of course, in your mind, you start thinking Who might that be?” said Principal Towner.
“I think when they announced it at first I it took a minute to process just because he's not the type of person that would like put himself out there as saying, recognizing his accomplishments, I guess we have to pull that out of him oftentimes. And so it just was really caught us off guard, but we were so proud of him,” said Frana Peluso Melhern the Assistant to the Principal.
Franca Peluso Melhern is Tonwer’s assistant.
They both started at Walt Disney together five years ago and she can’t think of anyone more deserving to win than him.
“I just feel like he's really, like, brought the school to life,” said Peluso Melhern.
Milken says Towner was chosen because of the recent success he’s brought to the school.
“He and his staff have helped Walt Disney move from a C to a B state grade, and now they're getting close to an A and last November this school was listed by US News and will report as one of the best Indiana elementary schools,” said Dr. Foley.
He also developed new ways for students to learn about difficult topics like diversity and the sciences by creating cultural nights and starting a 3-week STEM camp.
Success and innovation that you can see and hear with staff and students that Towner calls his dolphin family.
The Learning Curve team asked some students about their favorite memories with their principal.
One 5th grader, Daniela Bolster said, “He [Principal Towner] was walking around the halls talking to everybody, watching him play his ukulele. And it was cool! I guess I was amazed.”
“One time he played soccer with me and my friends,” said 5th grader, Aubri Cruz.
For 5th grader, Peter Bogonko he simply wanted to say, “Thank you Mr. Towner…” “…for being my principal.”
“I'm just so happy at Disney with my team at PHSI. I have found this to be a place that is so welcoming. So providing opportunities, I've continuously been challenged and supported. And so I'm really happy to be here,” said Principal Towner.
If being nationally recognized isn’t exciting enough, Ryan Towner will also get a monetary award of $25,000 and special training to become a better educator.
Our Learning Curve team asked Towner what he’s going to spend the money on, and he is just not sure yet but is humbled by the opportunities ahead.