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A young student hugs her teacher
A Neshoba Central Elementary School student hugs teacher Kristien Long after the Milken Family Foundation presented Long with the Milken Educator Award during a school celebration on Jan. 10, 2023.  Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Three Mississippi Teachers Awarded ‘Oscars of Teaching’ and $25,000 

Kristien “Krissy” Long delivered her baby on Nov. 21, 2023. A week later, she received an email saying that her school, Neshoba Central Elementary, would have a celebration of excellence ceremony in January that the Mississippi Superintendent of Education would attend. The email instructed faculty and staff to dress nicely and to be prepared for visitors. Long, who planned to still be on maternity leave, did not think much of the email.

A bit later, Neshoba Central Elementary Principal Tiffany Plott sent an additional email to Long encouraging her to hire a babysitter and join them for the celebration. She told Long that she was a big part of the school’s success and needed to be there to celebrate their hard work. Long still did not find it strange that her principal was putting such an emphasis on her presence at the assembly.

“I didn’t think anything about it because Neshoba Central is an excellent school,” Long told the Mississippi Free Press. “We’ve been an ‘A’ school district seven years in a row. Our kindergarten has been number one in the state on their readiness assessment for six years in a row.”

On Jan. 9, Long received another email from her principal asking for verification that she would be attending the celebration on the next day. Her insistence still did not rouse Long’s suspicions.

“Honestly, I was so excited when I got there,” Long said. “It was the first time I’d seen my students since before Thanksgiving, and they were all hugging me. It was like a big reunion. I was not expecting anything (else).”

Long could barely contain her shock when Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop and Interim State Superintendent of Education Dr. Raymond C. Morgigno surprised her with a national education award and $25,000 at the assembly.

“There are so many teachers that work endless hours and work their fingers to the bone to do what’s best for the children and Mississippi,” Long said on Jan.14. “I was just overwhelmed with excitement and honor that they had noticed my talents and it had brought attention to my school district.”

A teacher holds a large check for $25,000 while surrounded by her students
The Milken Family Foundation recognized Long for creating real-world scenarios in her classroom. They awarded her a $25,000 cash gift that can be used however she chooses. Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Long is one of three Mississippi teachers the Milken Family Foundation recognized last week. The foundation awarded Milken Educator Awards to Long, Houston High School teacher Anna Katherine Davis and Pearl Upper Elementary teacher Jennifer Hite The award acknowledges educators who have shown excellence and innovation in the classroom.

Bishop and Morgigno traveled across the state to present the awards. The events were part of the Milken Family Foundation’s nationwide tour. The organization will present the 3,000th Milken Educator Award this year.

“Krissy Long is a beacon of inspiration for her students and illuminates a path to excellence for them through her immense dedication and creativity,” Bishop said in a press release. “Her inspiring instructional practices, unwavering commitment to her students, school and community, and seamless integration of real-world applications into her math and science curriculum are some of the ways she personifies the qualities of a Milken Educator.”

The cash prize is unrestricted, and recipients may use the funds however they choose. Long is still deciding what to do with the gift.

“Honestly, my first thought was (that) I really need a new desk in my classroom and little things that I would have been pouring my own money in,” Long said. “My husband and I have discussed a couple of different things. I actually just finished my master’s degree, and so that’s about how much grad school costs. So it’s kind of a blessing in disguise.”

Long is a fifth-grade math and science teacher who brings real-world scenarios into her classroom. One of her favorite math units involves adding and subtracting multiplying and dividing decimals. Long invited her students to dinner at a local restaurant where they made selections from the menu, tallied their own bills and calculated their change. Long also taught students how to factor in gratuities.

“I love to take the opportunity in my classroom to teach the kids about the world and how we’re not just going to take a test on adding and subtracting fractions and then forget about it,” Long said. “We’re going to talk about the careers that are attached to that, how we use that in our everyday lives and how it contributes to us being successful adults.”

‘Maximizing Student Potential’

Anna Katherine Davis was late for the school assembly the morning of her award. She took a few moments to secure a T-shirt order for the school archery team she coaches. When she arrived, no seats were left, so she stood by the wall.

“I didn’t get in there until the very last minute,” Davis said. “I thought (my principal) Coach Thomas was kind of acting funny, and I thought that was really weird.”

The 11th-year math teacher stepped up during the pandemic to minimize learning loss during the pandemic. She used her knowledge and love of technology, a smart panel, Google Meet, a Slate tablet, and a laptop to keep students engaged in math lessons. The result was significant academic growth for her students.

“I had my computer set up, and when I shared my screen for Google Meets, they could see exactly what I was writing,” Davis told Mississippi Free Press. “They could see me teaching and hear everything, and then I could record it and send it to everybody in the classrooms. Nobody really missed anything if they were out for COVID.”

A teacher reacts surprised at the news of winning an award
Anna Katherine Davis was shocked to receive a 2023-2024 Milken Educator award on Jan. 11, 2024. The award comes with a $25,000 cash gift that the teacher may use without restriction. Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Davis is the first teacher from Chickasaw County School District to receive the award. Her school and the district also selected her teacher of the year for 2023-2024.

“Anna Katherine Davis is a go-to expert for engaging students in math and using innovative approaches to maximize student potential,” Bishop said. “Her leadership has far-reaching impact, motivating students to become independent thinkers, supporting colleagues, and making positive contributions to the school and broader community.”

Davis said that it is an honor for other national educators who are seen to be the best in their craft to recognize her own efforts.

“It’s an honor,” Davis said. “It does make me feel good that somebody does honor, you know, people who are teachers that work hard and go above and beyond.”

‘A Model of Excellence’

Jennifer Hite is a fifth-grade science teacher known for infusing creativity into every aspect of instruction including turning an area of her classroom into a model of the moon’s cycle and wearing cold weather clothing during an arctic climate unit. She chairs the school’s science department and geography bee, sponsors the student council, and serves on the school leadership team. Hite also serves on the state Science Content and Data Review Committee and is a former superintendent’s advisory committee member.

“(Hite) creates a dynamic learning environment that fosters hands-on experiences for her students and sets the stage for this next generation of curious minds,” Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop said. “She is poised to bring positive contributions that will resonate far beyond her community, shaping the future of education and serving as a model of excellence in the field.”

A teacher holds a large check for $25,000 while surrounded by her students
Jennifer Hite, a fifth-grade science teacher at Pearl Upper Elementary School, accepted a 2023-2024 Milken Educator Award during a school assembly on Jan. 10, 2024. Many refer to the awards as the “Oscars of Teaching.” Photo courtesy Milken Family Foundation

Lowell Milken created the Milken Educator Awards in 1987. They target early-to-mid-career educators. The awards, often referred to as the “Oscars of Teaching,” will honor up to 75 recipients this year and reach $75 million in total individual financial prizes since their start. The Milken Foundation has awarded 78 Mississippi educators since the state joined the program in 1991.

Honorees also receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles for the Milken Educator Awards Forum in June. They will meet with other Milken Educators on how to broaden their impact on education.

Follow the Milken Award tour and learn more about the program at

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