January 19, 2018 / Modified jan 19, 2018 2:29 p.m.

Desert View Teacher Wins National Educator Award

Chemistry teacher Jonathan Cadena among 44 recipients of Milken Educator Award.

Cadena Breathe hero Desert View High School chemistry teacher Jonathan Cadena breathes out following the surprise announcement that he was the recipient of a Milken Educator Award. (PHOTO: Nick O'Gara, AZPM)

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A Tucsonan became the only Arizona educator to win a national recognition this year for teaching excellence on Thursday.

The Milken Educator Award comes with $25,000, and it also came as a surprise to Desert View High School chemistry teacher Jonathan Cadena.

"I was just overwhelmed, I didn't know what to feel at first, it was just a combination of excited and happy and disbelief."

Desert view mariachi view larger VIEW LARGER Musicians and dancers perform at Desert View High School for a surprise ceremony announcing a Milken Educator Award winner. (PHOTO: Nick O'Gara, AZPM)

The element of surprise is a hallmark of the award announcements, which the Milken Foundation says it has been handing out for three decades. Like the 43 other educators from around the country chosen this year, Cadena showed up to the school gymnasium for an assembly, not knowing he would be the center of attention.

The Desert View student body filled the bleachers, and Pima County Superintendent Dustin Williams opened the ceremony, filling in for Arizona schools Superintendent Diane Douglas, who could not attend, he said. Williams introduced the foundation chair, Lowell Milken, characterizing him as a "world-class businessman" whose generosity has impacted hundreds of thousands of teachers.

Milken Announce view larger VIEW LARGER Lowell Milken prepares to announce the winner of a Milken Award at Desert View High School, Jan. 18. (PHOTO: Nick O'Gara, AZPM)

"We know from research that the single most important school-related factor that will determine how you will do is the quality of the teacher in the classrooms. Yes, good teachers really do make a difference," Milken said in statements leading up to the announcement.

"I was just overwhelmed, I didn't know what to feel at first, it was just a combination of excited and happy and disbelief."

Also in attendance were previous winners of the award, including Manuel Valenzuela, superintendent of the Sahuarita Unified School District.

"It shines the spotlight on this important work that we do to teach and educate the future of our country," said Valenzuela, who was the first Arizona recipient of the award, in 1998.

Cadena students view larger VIEW LARGER Teacher Jonathan Cadena and some of his students talk to the media after he received the Milken Award. (PHOTO: Nick O'Gara, AZPM)

The selection process for the recognition is confidential, and nominees are eventually reviewed by panels appointed by the state board of education, according to the foundation website. Milken said Desert View's Cadena was chosen in part for bringing intelligence and compassion to his classroom.

Cadena said he works to bring creativity to the content in his classroom, and has ideas about what it takes for students to thrive.

"They need hard work. that's the bottom line — even if you're struggling at home. I had some struggles at home. Even if you've got other stuff going on, if you set a goal and you believe in that goal and you believe in yourself, you can do it," Cadena said.

Cadena said he's looking forward to the professional development opportunities the Milken network will bring. "I guess that nerdy side never came out of me."

He's also free to do what wants with the $25,000, and said it comes at a good time, as his wife recently gave birth.

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