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Birmingham educator receives $25,000 and the "Oscar of Teaching"

Milken Family Foundation

The Milken Educator Award started in 1987, and Alabama joined the program in 1998. Throughout the years, a total of $1M has been awarded to 40 Alabama recipients. This award is unique because it targets early-to-mid career educators, and it has awarded top educators nationally.

Korri Cunningham is Alabama’s recipient this year. In 2011, Cunningham received an Associate of Art in English from Lawson State Community College. In 2015, she received a Bachelor of Science in secondary education-English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In 2021, she received a Master of Education in instructional leadership from the University of West Alabama.

Cunningham is a leader and educator in her community, and she currently works as an International Baccalaureate (IB) Coordinator at John Herbert Phillips Academy.

Cunningham said education is important to her because she had great teachers who impacted her life, which influenced her decision to become a teacher.

“The education that our students receive today, that's going to affect our tomorrow,” Cunningham said is the motto she lives by every day.

She said getting to know her students is one of the most essential things she does each school term.

“Whenever a new school year starts, I take time to really get to know my students and also allow them to get to know me. I’m just always working to create a positive culture and climate…and I strive to make sure that the lessons that I teach are always relevant and engaging for my students,” Cunningham said.

Before becoming an IB Coordinator, she was an English language arts teacher for five years. During this experience, she was able to share her passion for reading and push district initiatives. Soon she would step into a new role as an instructional coach. She described her role of an instructional coach as being a support system for fellow teachers to impact classrooms in new ways.

For the past couple of months, she’s been in the role as an IB coordinator which she described as an adjustment but insightful.

“My main role is to be coordinated to coach and support teachers to ensure the continuous development and effective implementation of the IB framework. So, I feel good to work with teachers and support them in some of the same ways that I did as an instructional coach,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said winning the award was a little overwhelming, but she’s ready for the opportunities that lie ahead.

“Oh, I am very proud of myself,” Cunningham said. “I definitely feel like this award is a testament for all of the hard work that I put in, as a classroom teacher and instructional coach. I also feel like it's all a testament of me going above and beyond the typical classroom duties of a teacher to ensure that my students were always engaged in learning in my classroom.”

This 2023 Milken Educator recipient is still embracing the moment and encouraging students to always admire the finish line.

“The best piece of advice that I can give to students is to give everything 100%. You never know what one opportunity may lead to. So, just ensuring that they always give everything 100%,” Cunningham said.

Recipients are also awarded $25,000 and have the opportunity to use the cash prize however they want. Next year, the honorees will attend the Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles. During this experience, they will receive mentorship opportunities through various national and international levels.

Jolencia Jones is a graduate assistant at Alabama Public Radio. She joined APR in 2022. She graduated from The University of Alabama with a bachelor's degree in public relations. Over the past year, Jolencia has written a range of stories covering events throughout the state. When she's not working at APR, she's writing for 1956 Magazine and The Crimson White.

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