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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Ginger Giessler, a teacher at Wayne New Tech Academy, was surprised at a general assembly Thursday when she learned she had received the Milken Educator Award and $25,000.

Local educator wins national award

Wayne New Tech English teacher gets ‘Oscar of Teaching’

– Not too long ago, Ginger Giessler had a good career as district manager and retail buyer. Unsatisfied with the corporate lifestyle, she decided to switch paths and do something she thought would make a difference – teach.

The spirited and popular teacher was recognized on a national level Thursday for being one of the best educators in the country.

At a school convocation, the English and language arts teacher at Wayne New Tech Academy was shocked to learn she was the only educator in Indiana to win the national Milken Educator Award – dubbed the “Oscar of Teaching.”

A visibly shocked Giessler wore a glowing smile and wiped a few tears amid thunderous applause and cheers from the student body and fellow staff members at Wayne New Tech.

Included in the prestigious recognition was a $25,000 cash award, which was given to Giessler to spend “any way she chooses,” said Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Family Foundation in Santa Monica, Calif.

“The winners are not nominated. We seek them out for their excellence in teaching,” Foley said.

Giessler caught the attention of the Milken Foundation because she pushed boundaries at the diverse urban academy, engaging students and initiating innovative academic programs, Foley said.

About 40 educators from across the United States are chosen each year for the award, Foley said.

Foley, a 1994 Milken Educator Award recipient from Indiana, was joined by Glenda Ritz, state superintendent of public instruction and Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson.

Indiana has had 57 award recipients. Three of them were in attendance for Giessler’s ceremony – Theresa Knipstein-Meyer, a Fort Wayne native who now teaches at Butler University; Christine Michael, a Wayne High School graduate who recently retired from teaching at FWCS; and Sherry Annee, who teaches science at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis.

The Milken Educator Awards was conceived by Lowell Milken to attract, retain and motivate outstanding talent to the teaching profession. The Milken Family Foundation has devoted more than $136 million in funding to the awards since 1997.

Giessler came to Wayne New Tech in 2009 after teaching at Northwood Middle School and Elmhurst High School. She was hooked as soon as she discovered that Wayne New Tech was not a run-of-the mill high school, she said.

“I knew this is where I wanted to be,” Giessler said.

Students work in a project-based learning environment that allows them to be creative and learn teamwork as they collaborate on projects that require critical thinking and communication.

Academy instructors go beyond schoolroom walls, teaching the relevancy of studies and connecting students to real-life situations, Giessler said.

After the assembly was dismissed, dozens of Giessler’s students stormed the auditorium floor, encircling their beloved teacher in a group hug.

“Mrs. Giessler is the reason I like writing,” said Christine Smith, a senior. “I had her as a sophomore and I wasn’t that good. She pushed me to become a better writer.”

“She checks with students on a social level, as well, making sure everything is OK in their lives,” Smith said.

Fellow senior Bradley Cripe agreed.

“She is a good person; before summer vacation, she told us if we needed anything to call her,” Cripe said. “She can take a normal project and twist it up and make it so unique that it allows us to be very creative.”

Another classmate, Shawnna Smith, said Giessler has helped influence the teen’s plans to become either a teacher or civil engineer.

Giessler’s students score 25 percent above the district average in literacy, and student pass rates are at the school’s highest levels ever at 75 percent to 80 percent, according to FWCS records.

In the national “Letters about Literature” essay competition sponsored by the Indiana Center for the Book, a program of the Indiana State Library, 16 of Giessler’s students have been semifinalists, including the 2012 national champion.

While continuing as a classroom teacher at New Tech, Giessler now devotes part of her time to coaching teachers at the emerging New Tech-Towles Middle School in project-based learning, collaboration and accountability. The educator is also in demand as a speaker at state and national levels.

Giessler told students and co-workers that the award was not just for her – but for all of them.

“I love you,” she shouted above the cheers.

“I love kids, I love guiding them and helping them see potential that they don’t see in themselves,” Giessler said. “I like seeing them get a taste of success, because, hopefully, they will want more.”