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Amber Dortch M.Ed. '05 wins Milken Educator Award

December 14, 2015
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Amber Dortch M.Ed. '05 wins Milken Educator Award. Dortch is one of only 40 educators who will receive the prestigious national honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s coast-to-coast tour across the country. Photo by Milken Family Foundation.

Principal Amber Dortch's birthday week ended on a particularly sweet note when, unbeknownst to her and her entire team at Hugo A. Owens Middle School in Chesapeake, she was surprised with a Milken Educator Award and its accompanying $25,000 prize at an all-school assembly.

Dortch had been planning for a visit from State and local leaders, but didn’t realize she had been organizing her own party until her name was announced as a recipient of the Milken Award before cheering students, respected colleagues, distinguished officials and the media.

Dortch is among up to only 40 educators who will receive the prestigious national honor during the Milken Family Foundation’s (MFF) coast-to-coast tour across the country. MFF has been rewarding outstanding elementary and secondary educators with the Award since 1987.

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Steven Staples and Education Secretary Anne Holton joined Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley in making the special announcement.

“Amber Dortch epitomizes the 21st-century instructional leader who inspires her teachers and equips them with the tools, strategies and data they need to improve outcomes for students,” Staples said. “She is a constant presence—in the halls and in the classrooms—always encouraging students to believe in themselves and to make every moment count.”

“As important as the test results is the school climate that Dortch has fostered in which all students are valued and challenged to succeed,” added Holton.

“Amber Dortch is a leader and a doer, working together with faculty and students to help the whole school thrive,” said Foley, who won the Milken Educator Award in 1994 when she was a principal in Indiana. “We look forward to following her journey in strengthening educational opportunities in her school, community and beyond.”

Amber Dortch hones her skills as a former classroom teacher, assistant principal and district administrator in her role as principal of Hugo A. Owens Middle School. She was asked to take the helm at the school just two years ago, when it was in jeopardy of losing full accreditation. Dortch gained teachers’ trust by involving them in a system of collaborative leadership to effectively tie instruction to standards and student needs. They began using new research-based strategies, analyzing student data to drive decision-making and developed a schoolwide lesson plan template.

Dortch is a hands-on leader, providing opportunities for staff development and collegiality as well as motivating students and increasing overall school morale. It is not uncommon to see her co-teaching a lesson in the classroom, organizing spirited assemblies before assessments or offering a pep talk one-on-one.

Her creativity, positivity and ability to rally her team around common goals of strengthened instruction and student achievement have been drivers for the school’s progress. Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) scores have improved in all four core areas (English, math, history and science) and the school is in good accreditation standing.

Dortch’s leadership and enthusiasm extend beyond the classroom as well. At the district level, she is often asked to serve as a professional development trainer for aspiring administrators. She is also vice president of the Chesapeake Association of Public School Administrators, a guest speaker in the educational leadership programs at Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University, and a certified National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Breaking Ranks trainer. She served for seven years as the Virginia High School League forensics director for the Southeastern district and Eastern region.

Dortch received her Bachelor of Arts from Longwood College in modern languages with a concentration in Spanish in 2000, and her master’s in educational policy, planning and leadership from the College of William and Mary in 2005. She is currently pursuing her Doctor of Education at Virginia Tech.

You can read more and view photos on the Milken Educator Awards website here.