- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Two D.C. public school teachers received early holiday gifts yesterday — $25,000 each — for inspiring students and excelling in their careers.

The teachers received the surprise awards during assemblies at Banneker Senior High School in Northwest and Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in Southwest.

Kim Burke Ables, an advanced-placement science teacher at Banneker, and Jonathan Jou, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Jefferson, are the first D.C. teachers to win the $25,000 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Awards.

Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder, presented the awards.

“I’m a person who thinks teachers and principals have the most important jobs in the country,” he said.

“One teacher has the power to influence a young person’s life. Every successful person will tell you that one or two teachers helped them get where they are today.”

He also said teachers often go unheralded while athletes, scientists and other professionals are routinely recognized with everything from Most Valuable Player awards to Nobel prizes.

“Isn’t it interesting the teaching profession, which makes it happen, has never been recognized?” he asked before announcing the award recipients.

Ms. Burke Ables, 32, appeared on the brink of tears when Mr. Milken announced her name.

Thunderous applause erupted inside the school gymnasium as the popular and petite science teacher approached the podium to receive her check.

She received congratulations from guests that included Paul L. Vance, D.C. schools superintendent; former Education Secretary William J. Bennett; retired NFL star Roosevelt Grier; Rene Islas, an Education Department special assistant; and Philip Bigler, a 1999 award recipient for his work in Fairfax County schools.

“I must say first [that] I owe it all to God,” Ms. Burke Ables said.

“When you have favor with God, you have favor with man. I want to thank my students and the staff and all of the teachers who have been so supportive of me. Thank you, Ms. Tucker and Mr. Vance. I just hope I can continue to pour out what you have given me.”

Ms. Burke Ables said she plans to donate some of the money to the school and use the remainder to further her own education.

Patricia Tucker, Banneker principal, described Ms. Burke Ables as a “wonderful teacher” and said she was fortunate to have her. She also said Ms. Burke Ables came highly recommended by another principal when she was making a transition from elementary-school education into secondary education.

The mood at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School was tinged with the same excitement and anticipation that existed at Banneker.

Guests, faculty and students were entertained by the school’s jazz ensemble before the surprise announcement was made again by Mr. Milken.

Mr. Vance addressed students, thanked school Principal Deborah Holmes for a lovely introduction and applause, which he joked about with his audience.

“I want you to know that happens very rarely in a superintendent’s career,” he said. “I have to remind myself in the mirror that I am a winner. I have the power of one. I am a world changer.”

As a drumbeat rolled, Mr. Milken stepped forward and announced Mr. Jou as the second $25,000 Milken award recipient.

The student cheered wildly for the man they said treats them like high school students.

“[Mr. Jou] came to our attention because this school came to our attention because it’s doing outstanding work,” Mr. Milken said.

“You have many outstanding teachers here, and I’m confident if you continue to do outstanding work, we will be back.”

Mr. Jou, 37, said Mr. Vance, Mrs. Holmes and Vera White, assistant superintendent of D.C. schools, were equally deserving of the honor.

“A good army cannot win a battle without a good commander,” said Mr. Jou, a native of China. “When I heard my name called, I almost passed out. I thank the principal, and the superintendent and Miss White. A special thanks to Miss White, who hired me 12 years ago.”

He also related sage advice given by his mother about one’s life and work.

“If you find a job you truly like, you don’t have to work anymore,” he said. “Well, I just come to my second home” every day.

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