Pasadena teacher surprised with $25,000 award

A Pasadena high school social studies teacher was surprised Tuesday with $25,000 from the Milken Family Foundation, which presents the awards to outstanding educators in hopes of encouraging young people to pursue teaching careers.

Manuel Rustin, a 2003 UCLA graduate who teaches at John Muir High School, was presented with the award at a schoolwide assembly attended by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Jon Gundry.

Rustin had no idea he was going to be honored with a Milken Educator Award, much less receive $25,000.

Rustin told KPCC he will use the funds to buy a house.

This is the foundation's 25th year of recognizing and rewarding America's top teachers with what Teacher Magazine called the "Oscars of teaching."

According to the foundation, there is no formal nomination or application process. Each year, exceptional teachers, principals and specialists are recommended without their knowledge by a blue-ribbon panel appointed by each state's department of education and surprised with the news of their awards.

"Our public education system is at the heart of America's promise and is essential in safeguarding the American dream for future generations," said Lowell Milken, the foundation's chairman and co-founder. "With research confirming that an effective teacher is the single most important school- related factor in raising student achievement, it is clear to see the critical role that outstanding teachers play in shaping our country."

Rustin has a bachelor's degree in history and a minor in Education Studies from UCLA and earned his master's degree in teaching from Harvard. He is the lead teacher for John Muir High's Smaller Learning Community in Arts, Entertainment and Media.

In a traditionally underperforming school, Rustin's students are seeing noticeable gains in achievement, according to the foundation.

The Milken Educator Awards has honored more than 2,500 teachers, principals and specialists with over $63 million in individual, unrestricted $25,000 awards, according to the foundation. More than $135 million has been devoted to the overall program, which includes professional development opportunities throughout the recipients' careers. The awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary school educators.