JCPS principal wins $25,000 award for excellence in education

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A routine visit by Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday to Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary on Thursday morning turned into a school-wide assembly and celebration, as principal Allyson Vitato was surprised with an unrestricted $25,000 award.

The longtime educator was named the latest recipient of the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award, an award designed to provide public recognition and a financial reward to teachers, principals and other educators who have a proven record of excellence in education.

"I am in complete shock, the only reason I'm not crying is because I don't think it has hit me yet," said Vitato, who has been the principal at Breckinridge-Franklin for five years and an educator for 14 years. "I had no idea it was me until they announced my name."

Holliday and Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and a 1994 Milken Educator recipient from Indiana, were on hand to surprise Vitato with the recognition.

"It's unbelievable," Vitato said. "They totally fooled me, they told me Dr. Holliday was coming here to talk about the Common Core and they picked Breckinridge-Franklin because of its proximity to downtown."

The honor is only given to one educator in a state each year and about 40 educators nationally.

Like most educators, Vitato said the reason why she comes to work each day is for her students.

"My students have so much potential and a love for education," she said. "We are more than a school to our kids, we are part of their family."

Vitato also said she wouldn't "be able to do anything without my teachers and support teams here."

When asked what she will do with the $25,000, Vitato didn't hesitate.

"I'm going to give a lot of it back to my school," she said.

Rebecca Chaney, a third grade teacher at Breckinridge-Franklin, said it didn't surprise her to hear Vitato plans on spending the money on students and the school.

"She's a pretty selfless person," Chaney said. "She has always been so supportive of me and I feel I can go to her about anything."

Chaney said she hopes Vitato will spend some of the money on herself.

"She should go to Disney, she loves going to Disney," Chaney said with a smile.

Since 1987, the Milken Foundation has given out more than 2,600 awards to educators, totaling over $65 million.

"This award brings attention to our most valuable education resources -- our hardworking, dedicated educators," Holliday said. "The work is not always easy, there are challenges every day."

The last recipient of the Milken Award in Jefferson County Public Schools was Jay Crocker in 2009. At the time, he was a teacher at Ballard High School. 

Since 1994, ten educators in JCPS have won the coveted award:

1994 — Bonnie Cecil, teacher at J. Graham Brown Elementary School

1995 — Barbara Fendley, teacher at duPont Manual High School

1996 — Jacqueline Austin, principal at Kennedy Elementary School

1999 — Cynthia Crocker, teacher at Noe Middle School

2000 — Mary Robertson, teacher at Young Elementary School

2001 — Kirk Lattimore, principal at Crosby Middle School

2005 — Diane MacKenzie, teacher at Atherton High School

2006 — LaMesa Marks-Johns, teacher at Shacklette Elementary School

2009 – Jay Crocker, teacher at Ballard High School

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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