A Milton middle school mathematics teacher received a welcome surprise on Wednesday, winning the 2013 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award and a $25,000 prize.
James Moonan, who teaches mathematics to sixth graders at Charles S. Pierce Middle School, is the state's 41st Milken Award winner, and the only Massachusetts teacher to win the award out of the 40 chosen nationwide this year.
In a surprise assembly in his honor, Moonan was recognized for his work and noted for his accomplishments at a school where he used to be a student.
“James Moonan is one of the most dynamic and effective, yet humble educators I have had the privilege and pleasure to work with and observe during my forty years in public education," said Superintendent Mary Gormley, who was Moonan’s principal during his elementary school years. "Jimmy not only understands the process of how to teach, but he also is able to connect with his students on a personal level that is unparalleled.”
An independent review committee at the state level found candidates through a confidential collection process, and ultimately chose Moonan for the award, giving him $25,000 in unrestricted money alongside the recognition.
The announcement came as a complete surprise to Moonan, whose name was announced after a pep rally featuring the High School marching band. Students had been gathered thinking they were only there to welcome the Commissioner of Education, Mitchell Chester.
As it turned out, the the gathering was to hand out the award, which alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators.
“James Moonan embodies the exceptional teaching we see every day in classrooms across the Commonwealth," Chester said. "What sets James and other outstanding educators apart is their commitment to their own professional growth to ensure that they and their students alike continuously improve."
“James understands that we have a stake in the next generation, and to leave this Commonwealth better than we found it, we must invest in the young minds that are our future,” agreed Governor Deval Patrick. “My sincerest congratulations and appreciation go out James and the Pierce Middle School. Thank you for inspiring us all.”
A YouTube video captured Moonan’s shock, and hundreds of students watching in the school’s gym and auditorium erupted into celebration at the announcement.
"Congratulations to James, his students and the Charles S. Pierce Middle School for this great honor," said Education Secretary Matthew Malone. "The best part of my job is being able to visit schools and meet with teachers who motivate and inspire their students to achieve at the highest levels. James is one of those teachers, and we are lucky to have him teaching here in Massachusetts."
Moonan receiving his bachelor’s degree from University of Massachusetts -- Boston and a master of secondary education from Emmanuel College.
Since teaching at Pierce in 2007, Moonan founded the school’s Community Leadership Club, which helps promote anti-bullying and community service; has had a key role in curriculum development at Milton Public Schools; and has helped ensure special education students received the support they needed.
One of three 6th-grade math teachers at Pierce Middle School, Moonan has contributed to significant MCAS success in the last five years, organizers said. The percentage of the school's sixth grade scoring "proficient" or higher on MCAS increased 66 percent in 2009 to 83 percent in 2013.
In 2013, sixth graders at Pierce scored in the 89th percentile in Mathematics, far outreaching similar groups throughout the state.
“I am proud to include Jimmy as one of Milton Public Schools' finest examples of what a teacher should be," Gormley said.
For more information on the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Awards program, visit the Foundation’s website.