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Nazareth alumna and special education teacher surprised with prestigious Milken Educator Award and $25,000

Published November 04, 2022

Nazareth alumna and Clyde-Savannah special education teacher Caitlin Garvey '11 received the surprise of a lifetime on November 4 when she was named one of the nation's best teachers during a schoolwide assembly of cheering students, appreciative colleagues, local dignitaries, and media. Garvey, who works with first, second, and third grades at Clyde-Savannah Elementary School, received the Milken Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation, which includes an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000.

Hailed as the "Oscars of teaching," Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with the unique stories of educators making a profound difference for students, colleagues, and communities. The specific states and schools on this year's winners' list remain a closely guarded secret until each award is announced.

"Caitlin engages students through innovative methods to reach their highest potential, adapts instruction to the needs of every child, and displays exceptional leadership in the classroom, school and district," said Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop, who presented the award with New York State Department of Education Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Teacher and Leader Development Alex Trikalinos.

"I am proud to welcome Caitlin Garvey to the Milken Educator Network and congratulate her on this well-deserved honor," said Bishop, who was a 2001 Virginia Milken educator.

Garvey, who earned a bachelor's in English literature and inclusive childhood and middle childhood education from Nazareth College in 2011 and a master's in literacy education from SUNY Oneonta in 2021, leads a class of 12 special needs students with five paraprofessionals at Clyde-Savannah Elementary. She emphasizes communication and language development while de-emphasizing barriers to learning. Working with a wide range of needs and unique abilities in the self-contained class, she designed the curriculum with the help of specialists in speech pathology, assistive technology, autism, and more.

Garvey finds creative ways to engage each child while holding them to their highest academic potential, closing educational gaps and building skills that will impact the students for life. Students use crayons to highlight words they know and are still working to master, and manipulatives to form compound sentences. Through small-group experiential activities, Garvey's students show consistent growth in sight-word fluency, reading levels, and time spent in integrated classroom settings.

When the pandemic closed school buildings, she reached out to families to ensure children had the technology they needed to engage in remote learning — a uniquely challenging and important need for her students — and coached parents on how best to support their children's education. Garvey has formed genuine bonds with students and their families, making sure they feel valued, respected, heard, and informed. She understands and appreciates students' and families' diverse needs and serves as a knowledgeable resource for peers on trauma, poverty and adverse childhood experiences.

Before moving to special education, Garvey taught many grade levels, served as a grade-level leader, and was a member of the school's leadership team. As a school leader and mentor in data-based decision-making, including creating assessments, Garvey excels at gathering and analyzing data and using it to adapt instruction for improved student performance. She also mentors other teachers and has led professional development on differentiation and student engagement strategies. On the district's instructional leadership team, Garvey contributes to curriculum mapping, development and material selection.

The Milken Educator Awards will honor up to 40 elementary educators in the 2022-23 school year. Over the past 35 years, more than $140 million in funding, including more than $73 million in individual awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers.

More About the Milken Educator Awards

Along with the financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,900 top teachers, principals, and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards, and others dedicated to excellence in education.

  • The honorees will attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, where they will network with the latest winners, veteran Milken Educators, and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education.
  • They will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFF) mentoring program, in which new Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.
  • Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of leadership roles at state, national and international levels.
  • "We find you. You don't find us!" Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards initiative has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. The most exceptional candidates are recommended for the award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation.
  • The $25,000 cash Award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. For instance, some have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.
For More Information

Julie Long | Senior News & PR Officer | | (585) 389-2456 | (585) 781-8186 (cell)

Caitlin's bio, photos, & video from announcement.

Nazareth University is an inclusive community of inspired learners, educators, and changemakers who for nearly 100 years have been driven by a bold commitment to action, empathy, equity, and leading innovation for the common good. Impact experiences are at the heart of a Nazareth education, preparing each student to discover within themselves the potential to cultivate positive change in their life's work, in any career field, and in a world that is constantly evolving and infinitely interconnected.

Our broad academic offerings present a range of study options typical of larger universities, yet achieved in our supportive campus culture. Nearly 2,100 undergrad and 600 graduate students enroll in degree and certificate programs and engage in collaborative, transformative learning experiences, preparing for the professions and society of today and tomorrow. In a learning community that purposefully integrates liberal arts and professional programs, Nazareth University graduates are able to launch a lifetime of impactful leadership in communities and workplaces near and far.

Naz alum Caitlin Garvey receiving her $25,000 Milken Educator Award check. From left, Alex Trikalinos, assistant commissioner for New York State Education Department's Office of Teacher and Leader Development; Rachel Tonkovich (NJ '10); recipient Caitlin Garvey (NY '22); Andrew Franz (NY '17); and Stephanie Bishop (VA '01), vice president of the Milken Educator Awards.