SRU alumna Victoria Lightfoot surprised with the prestigious Milken Educator Award


Lightfoot finds out she won

Victoria Lightfoot, a Slippery Rock University graduate, reacts to receiving the Milken Educator Award, May 6, at her school, Millbrook Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she is an instructional coach. Photo courtesy of Milken Family Foundation.

May 13, 2022

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — On the final day of Teacher Appreciation Week, May 6, Victoria Lightfoot suspected her school or maybe a teacher there would be receiving an award. Teachers, administrators and third graders gathered for an outdoor assembly at Millbrook Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina, that also welcomed special guests inthe state and area superintendents. Then, suddenly, Lightfoot's name was on the lips of the presenters as well as a giant check that was revealed, totaling $25,000.

Lightfoot, '10, '14M, a Slippery Rock University graduate who earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in elementary education, had won the Milken Educator Award presented by the Milken Family Foundation. She is one of 60 recipients nationwide recognized this year with the Milken Education Award. Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," this award celebrates the American teaching profession by honoring early- to mid-career professionals for what they have achieved, and for the promise of what they've yet to accomplish.

"I was just thinking, 'Wow, one of these lucky third-grade teachers is going to get this huge award and that's so exciting,'" said Lightfoot, who is in her first year as an instructional coach at Millbrook Magnet, after serving the previous 11 years as a teacher at schools in Wake County, North Carolina. "When they said my name, it was an amazing feeling, because I had definitely been working hard and doing many different things that have led up to this moment."

In additional to receiving the $25,000 unrestricted cash prize, Lightfoot joins the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists, and she is invited to attend an awards forum in Los Angeles later this year, where other education leaders will discuss how to increase their impact on K-12 education. Candidates for the Milken Educator Award do not apply for the award; they are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by panels in each state and final selections are made by the Milken Family Foundation.

"Victoria Lightfoot is an incredible example of how extraordinary teachers are role models for their students and colleagues alike," said Stephanie Bishop, vice president of the Milken Educator Awards. "As a third-grade teacher who grew to become an instructional coach, Victoria truly understands how to share what works in the classroom to bolster achievement across the school."

As an instructional coach, Lightfoot supports teachers in grades K-5 as a consultant, observing lessons and providing feedback for ideas and strategies that they can implement. In her previous role teaching third grade at nearby Cedar Fork Elementary, Lightfoot developed engaging activities that encouraged students to exchange ideas and learn from each other. In 2018-19, her class scored nearly 90% in grade-level proficiency and 74% in college and career readiness on the state end-of-grade tests.

Lightfoot's journey to becoming a Milken Educator started when she was recruited to attend SRU while attending Rayen High School in Youngstown, Ohio. Lightfoot earned a full scholarship through the U.S. Department of Education's Teacher Quality Enhancement grant program.

"My experience at SRU was life changing, because before I received the scholarship, I didn't even think going to college was possible," Lightfoot said. "I had some very amazing professors (at SRU), and I was really equipped to be a successful educator, as well as many of the things that I did on campus through leadership roles."

Lightfoot was president of her housing council and she was a member of the judicial board, a faith ministry student organization, and the dance team, to name a few. She credited her adviser, Sherry DuPont, an SRU associate professor of elementary education from 1991-2017, for teaching her literacy instruction techniques that help bring children's books to life for her classes that she still harkens back to in her practice today.

"At SRU, I really grew as a student and (my experience there) helped me grow as a learner and it really equipped me to be a servant to not only my students, but my school and in my community," Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot is the first SRU alumnus to become a Milken Educator since Melanie Cole won the award in 2017.

More information about the Milken Educator Award is available on, including a profile of Lightfoot and a video of her receiving the award. More information about SRU's elementary education programs is available on the department's webpage.

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