Wendy Shirey said she became a teacher to “change the world,” but it was easy to lose sight of that goal when she was working hard with students whose test scores were not reflecting it.
Shirey, who was an assistant principal for three years before becoming principal at Pinecrest Academy Horizon elementary school in Henderson, has since overseen plenty of progress. The school’s rating last year improved from a projected three stars to five stars, as determined by the Nevada Department of Education.
She attended and organized an assembly Dec. 19 expecting to showcase Pinecrest as Nevada’s highest-performing charter school system. Instead, Lowell Milken, co-founder and chairman of the Milken Family Foundation, presented her with the Milken Educator Award for innovation, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize.
Milken praised her “data-driven approach, tech-friendly mindset and grasp of her students’ emotional needs.” He added that teachers like Shirey “expand the universe of understanding for students and teachers alike.”
Shirey is Nevada’s only Milken award recipient this year and the state’s first since 2009. Recipients are early- to mid-career teachers or administrators who show innovation in the classroom and schoolwide.
Shirey took over as principal at Pinecrest Academy Horizon, one of five Pinecrest Academy campuses in the Las Vegas Valley, this year. It was the latest step on a path that stretches back to her childhood.
It was Mrs. Lewis’s first-grade class in Yakima, Washington, that inspired Shirey to become a teacher. She said Mrs. Lewis — first name Bernadette — believed in her, took an interest in her progress and even took her out to ice cream one afternoon.
Barbara Murphy, Shirey’s fifth-grade teacher in Sheridan, Wyoming, was the first teacher to make reading fun. Shirey recalls building journals from cardboard and wallpaper pieces.
“She made reading come to life for me,” Shirey said.
Beverly Mathis Elementary School , named after Mathis, sits in the southwest area of Las Vegas. MOVING TO BOX
Others who have won the Milken Educator Award attended the Dec. 19 assembly, including Dr. Beverly Mathis, who received it in 2000 as principal at Booker Elementary School. Mathis is the namesake of Mathis Elementary School, which opened in 2017 in southwest Las Vegas.
About Milken Educator Awards
They’ve been given nationwide since 1987 to teachers whose “contributions to education are largely unheralded yet worthy of the spotlight,” among other criteria. For more information, visit milkeneducatorawards.org/about/criteria-for-selection.
The awards are bestowed by the Milken Family Foundation, led by Lowell Milken since 1982. This year, 22 teachers nationwide received the awards, which come with $25,000 in cash.
Nevada winners since 2000
Educators’ positions reflect their location and job title at the time they won the awards. A list of all educators nationwide who have received the awards is at milkeneducatorawards.org/educators.
2009: Jeremy Gregersen, English department chairman at The Meadows School, Las Vegas; Mike Patterson, math teacher at Advanced Technologies Academy, Las Vegas
2008: Dr. Carrie Buck, principal at Sewell Elementary School, Henderson; Gayle Magee, teacher at Empire Elementary, Carson City
2007: Ernie Ashby, English/language teacher at Orr Middle, Las Vegas
2006: Rebecca Johnson, principal at Adams Elementary, Las Vegas; Stephanie Steckler-Hathaway, science specialist at Lamping Elementary, Henderson
2005: Ellen Fallon, math teacher at Carson Middle, Carson City; Valarie Young, teacher at Advanced Technologies Academy
2004: Dr. Sandra Brady, teacher/literacy specialist at Parson Elementary, Las Vegas; Judy Bayley Piccininni, teacher, Bilbray Elementary, Las Vegas
2003: Teacher Education Academy lead instructor/teacher at Clark High, Las Vegas; Julie Reid, social studies teacher at Eagle Valley Middle, Carson City
2002: Cheryl DiMartino, teacher at Squires Elementary, North Las Vegas; Bonnie P. Murray, teacher at Alamo Elementary School, Las Vegas
2001: Ruth Litterini, teacher/development coordinatora at Chaparral High, Las Vegas; Valdine Marie McLean, science teacher at Pershing County High, Lovelock
2000: Norita Espinosa, counselor at Bracken Elementary, Las Vegas; Rodger Hansford, math teacher at Sage Elementary, Elko; Dr. Beverly Mathis, principal at Booker Elementary School, Las Vegas