Neag Alumnus Awarded Milken Award

Desi Nesmith reacts to being recognized with the Milken Award. Photo credit: Milken Family Foundation
Desi Nesmith reacts to being recognized with the Milken Award. Photo credit: Milken Family Foundation

Sitting in the exact gym where he sat as an elementary school student, Metacomet Elementary School Principal Desi Nesmith was brought to tears when he learned that he had received the Milken Educator Award–nicknamed ”the Oscars of Teaching.”

“I wasn’t sure if it was real,” Nesmith said of receiving the prestigious honor. The Milken Educator Award is the premiere teaching accolade that recognizes the “unsung heroes” of education, providing them with a $25,000 award. Nesmith says that he is giving “serious consideration” on what to do with the award money.

Nesmith was told that Commissioner of the State Department of Education Stefan Pryor was visiting to congratulate Metacomet Elementary School on their reading and writing scores. Before Nesmith was named principal four years ago, the Bloomfield elementary school had a wide achievement gap of 19 percent and struggled in reading, writing, and math scores. Just last year, Metacomet reported that these scores exceeded the state average by 8.1 percent. Nesmith is credited for eliminating the achievement gap and bringing up the academic scores.

“It’s fantastic when a home-grown hero-educator receives the recognition they deserve,” Pryor told the Hartford Courant. “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.”

Nesmith was “absolutely overwhelmed and humbled” to receive this award and was the only educator in Connecticut this year to do so. His roots are here in Connecticut, graduating from the Neag School of Education and working around the state. Previously, Nesmith presided over the turnaround of SAND Elementary School, which went from being the sixth lowest performance school to being recognized in 2010 as one of the top ten improved schools.

This isn’t the first time Nesmith has been highlighted for his accomplishments. After earning his BS in 2001 and an MA in 2002 through the Neag School of Education’s IB/M program, he went onto complete the UCAPP administrator preparation program in 2009. In 2009, he received the inaugural “Outstanding Young Professional Award” from the Neag School of Education Alumni Society.

“Neag prepared me for my position by equipping me with the tools necessary to be a change agent for kids,” Nesmith said. “The relationships that are established are life long relationships with professors and Dean Schwab that last far beyond the end of the semester. Neag faculty stay with you as a support system for all your endeavors.”

To receive this prestigious award at Metacomet, where his love of learning began, is something Nesmith will always cherish.

“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 told the Hartford Courant. “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 is added to the list of 92 Connecticut educators to be recognized as Milken Educator Award recipients since the award’s inception. The Milken Family Foundation has honored early to mid-career educators around the country with unrestricted $25,000 awards since 1987.

“I see this award as a culmination of the hard work of many people including the Metacomet students, teachers and families,” Nesmith said. “To receive this award and to represent both Metacomet and Bloomfield Public Schools with this honor is the most humbling thing that could happen to me as an administrator.”