Bill Smithyman receives $25,000 through Milken Educator Award

English teacher Bill Smithyman was awarded the Milken Educator Award and $25,000 at a surprise assembly Monday.

English teacher Bill Smithyman was awarded $25,000 during a surprise assembly Monday afternoon. Smithyman is one of forty who will be recognized with a Milken Educator Award this year by Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken.

Teachers and students alike rose to their feet in a standing ovation when Milken announced Smithyman’s name in the gym. Principal Amy Murphy said only she and Blue Valley Interim Superintendent Al Hanna were aware of the award beforehand.

“[I am] shocked,” Smithyman said. “Beyond shocked…I just never expected this would be an assembly for this purpose, let alone it would be for my purpose.”

He said after receiving the award, he felt lightheaded and had to take a seat.

“I don’t do that very often,” Smithyman said. “I don’t get lightheaded, but I just was a little bit, for a second.”

The award benefactor, Lowell Milken, who founded the award 30 years ago, said individuals are considered for the award if they have come to the attention of the state or the foundation. Milken said the selection process is also confidential.

“It’s confidential because we don’t want recipients to know that we’re even considering them,” Milken said. “But we’re looking for individuals who are very strong instructional leaders, who are mentors to other teachers and who are invested in the community in which they teach.”

Murphy said she, Assistant Principal Katie Bonnema and English teacher Kyle Farrington wrote essays about Smithyman in June, because the Blue Valley district decided to nominate Smithyman for state recognition.

Milken said the Milken Family Foundation has connections with educators across the country in order to recognize educators brought to their attention by the state.

“The good works of individuals are brought to our attention and we have a process in working with the state and others to surface them,” Milken said. “We make the final decision at our foundation.”

Milken said the award recipient is also selected based on where the individuals are in their careers.

“We’re looking for…people who have been in education for six to 15 years, who have distinguished themselves, but have their whole careers still in front of them and can achieve greater things in the future,” Milken said.

Farrington said although Smithyman is a decorated teacher, he continues to pour in dedication and hard work.

“If you look at his resume, it’s really strong,” Farrington said. “Somebody like that could very easily sit back and just rest on his laurels, but he’s very focused on pushing harder (and) doing more for his kids.”

Senior Michala Sliefert, who had Smithyman for English her sophomore and junior years, said she was not surprised when Smithyman received the award.

“He is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” Sliefert said. “Every time I felt like I was failing the class or that I couldn’t succeed, he would always go out of his way to help me. He just made the day enjoyable.”

Farrington said even after winning the Milken Educator Award, Smithyman will remain the humble person he has always been.

“[Smithyman] is like, ‘How do I face all these teachers who are every bit or more deserving of this award than me?’” Farrington said. “He will never believe that he actually deserves the awards and the accolades that he gets, even though everybody else can see it.”

Sliefert said she hopes Monday’s recognition will let Smithyman recognize that his dedication does not go unnoticed.

“I think it’ll definitely change his life because he doubts himself all the time,” Sliefert said. “My sophomore year, he had an incident where he really doubted himself, and everyone was trying to say, ‘You are one of the best teachers at the school and in the state.’ He just wouldn’t believe us, and now, I think he’ll finally realize that he’s a great teacher.”

Murphy, a 2001 Milken Educator Award winner, said the network provided by the Milken Educator Award will be useful for Smithyman in the future.

“I hope that he has the opportunity as one of the veterans to now connect a network not only with Milken Educators across our state but you have an opportunity to network with educators across the country,” Murphy said.

Murphy said Smithyman deserves this award because of his dedication to his students and the time he commits to his work.

“There’s just no better job than this,” Smithyman said. “There’s no better job. Find me a better job than this one. There’s nothing more fun than being with you guys each day.”