In the midst of what Metacomet Elementary School Principal Desi Nesmith believed was an assembly to congratulate students on their reading and writing scores, Nesmith was surprised to learn that he was the reason school staff, community and state officials had gathered.
Thursday afternoon, Nesmith was recognized as the 2014 recipient of the Milken Educator Award and awarded $25,000. Nesmith is the only educator in Connecticut to receive the award this year.
State education department Commissioner Stefan Pryor credited Nesmith, who is in his fourth year as Metacomet Elementary School principal, as the reason the third-grade achievement gap has been eliminated, and the reason why the third grade reading, writing and math scores exceed the state average by 8.1 percent.
“It’s fantastic when a home-grown hero-educator receives the recognition they deserve,” Pryor said. “He’s the superb kind of leader we need to foster in Connecticut … he sets a precedent for his peers and we are so proud.”
Superintendent James Thompson said the award “speaks volumes” about Nesmith’s leadership skills – particularly for his work in closing the third-grade achievement gap.
Before becoming Metacomet’s principal, Nesmith was the principal of the SAND Elementary School in Hartford. Nesmith, 35, who is married with two young children, has deep roots in Bloomfield, and attended Metacomet Elementary School for first and second grade.
“I remember my older brothers walking me across the street to school every day before they’d run off to the middle school – we lived right across the street,” Nesmith said. “Being able to be a principal here is what it means to me to come full circle – this award, this is just so much more.”
Nesmith said when he was younger he would go to school with his father, a former teacher at the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Hartford, and help him hand out papers – “I thought it was the coolest thing ever… I knew in high school and in college exactly what I wanted to do, I’ve been surrounded by educators my whole life.”
Nesmith said he credits his teachers, staff and a “very strong community of some of the best kids and parents” for their dedication to learning.
“When you have those components, you can only succeed, we can only succeed,” Nesmith said. Milken award recipients are not notified ahead of time about their selection.
Jane Foley, the program’s senior vice president and a former recipient, said the program aims to award the “unsung heroes” – educators.
Since Connecticut joined the Milken Family Foundation in 1988, 92 Connecticut educators have been recognized as Milken Educator Award recipients.
Founded in 1987 as an initiative of the Milken Family Foundation, the program honors early to mid-career educators around the country with unrestricted $25,000 awards. This year, up to 40 educators will join a group of over 2,600 total recipients.
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