Distinguished Educator Award Winners
The Distinguished Educator Award was launched in 2003 to recognize outstanding middle level practitioners. The Distinguished Educator Award winners impact the lives of our young adolescents on a day-to-day basis. They are the leaders in reform and change in their respective schools and districts, implementing the recommendations outlined in This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents. In many different ways they provide knowledge, advocacy, and support to the middle level movement by providing exceptional leadership as team members and administrative leaders.
In November 2005 National Middle School Association honored three individuals--teachers and principals with a combined service to middle level students of almost 75 years. As National Middle School Association is the voice for middle level education in today's world, these three honorees are the voices of middle level education in their states, districts, and schools. Their commitment to middle level students and the movement is seen in their classrooms, schools, and in sharing their expertise through articles, speeches, and workshops with other middle level educators.
Ed Vittardi has served middle level education as a teacher, counselor, and an administrator for over twenty years. He is currently the principal of Independence Middle School in Independence, Ohio. His skills in teaching and leadership have garnered him many awards of excellence including the 2001 Ohio Middle Level Principal of the Year and his selection as one of three finalists for the national award in 2002. He has been described as "one of the most highly respected middle level educators in Ohio."
Ed is a tireless advocate for middle level education. At Independence Middle School he can generally be found out and about in the hallways and classrooms connecting with his students and staff. His attitude of approachability has permeated the school’s culture, creating a warm and welcoming environment for students, staff, parents, community members, and visitors. His school frequently hosts educators from other schools who want to observe first-hand the programs and culture of the school. In addition, Mr. Vittardi regularly shares his knowledge of effective middle level education with colleagues as a guest speaker in university classes and as a presenter at state and national conferences.
Ed's leadership skills extend far beyond his responsibilities as a middle school principal. He has served on the board of directors for the Ohio Middle School Association and was instrumental in founding their School Development Network, a service that provides Ohio middle schools with the assistance needed to develop and implement a professional development plan tailored to the school’s needs. He also helps coordinate and serves as a faculty member of NMSA's Middle Level Leadership Institute.
There is no doubt that Ed Vittardi has a clear vision of a successful school for young adolescents. Under his leadership, Independence Middle School has been repeatedly recognized as a highly effective middle school. His superintendent writes that Ed's "ability to correlate research and theoretical knowledge into daily practice has earned him the respect of his students, parents, teachers, colleagues, and others in the community of Independence. Mr. Vittardi's leadership style is characterized not only by technical knowledge but also more importantly by his ability to understand the needs of the middle school student. His student-centered approach serves as the foundation for his administrative style and the positive climate that he has established in our middle school."
Ed Vittardi is an educator who has made a difference in the lives of others. He is a role model of an educator who has used vision, leadership, and advocacy to make this world a better place for young adolescents.
Robert Caplinger is currently an assistant principal at Lake Oswego Junior High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon. At the time of his award he served as a counselor at Edgewood Middle School in West Covina, California. For the ten years prior to working at Edgewood, he taught English, Reading, Social Studies, and Leadership to eighth graders at Imperial Middle School in La Habra, California.
As a teacher, Robert's former principal described him as one who continually looked for creative ways to overcome barriers in his quest to do "what's best for kids." His teaching exemplified curriculum that was relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory. Even while operating under budget constraints, he managed to find ways to take his students to museums, plays, exhibits, and historical simulations. As an example, when studying the California gold rush, his students flew to Sacramento to pan for gold in the American River. His principal commented, "I knew that I could place any student in his class and by the end of the year that student would love learning."
When Robert moved to Edgewood Middle School in 2003, he immediately began to share benefits of the middle level philosophy with the staff and his enthusiasm sparked a school-wide effort to transform the school from one with many junior high characteristics into one that was middle level in nature. In just two short years, he has helped implement homerooms, an advisory program, interdisciplinary teams, an orientation program for new students, student-led conferences, smoother transitions to and from the middle school, and many more innovations. Through his efforts, Edgewood Middle School was awarded a "Best in the West" designation for its outstanding counseling program by the California Department of Education and Los Angeles County of Education.
Robert's vision of middle level education spreads beyond his classroom and his school. He also works as a part-time faculty member of the University of Phoenix, Southern California Campus, where he teaches courses in adolescent development, educational theory, English language development, curriculum and methods, and classroom management. In describing Mr. Caplinger, one of his students remarked, "He simply loved what he did and it shined through, inspiring a room full of soon-to-be educators to find that spark in themselves."
His colleagues describe him as a man of "integrity, honesty, and compassion" and as one who is a "wonderful example of what every middle level educator should be." Through his leadership, vision, and advocacy efforts, Robert Caplinger has become a shining example of an individual whose passion for middle level education has greatly impacted the lives of young adolescents.
Pam Milliken has been the principal of Custer Baker Middle School in Franklin, Indiana for 15 years. Prior to that she served as an assistant principal and a middle school teacher. She has been described as "dedicated, determined, and dependable." Her dedication to middle level education is clearly evident through her years of service to the Indiana Middle Level Education Association as well as to other professional organizations and advisory boards. In 1999, Pam was named Indiana's Middle Level Principal of the Year.
When Mrs. Milliken began her work as principal of Custer Baker Middle School, the atmosphere was less than positive – fights were a frequent occurrence and teachers and students felt disconnected from the learning process. Under her guidance, the school has been transformed into an outstanding example of a successful school for young adolescents. Indiana's Superintendent of Public Instruction calls her as "a champion of middle school ideals." Pam's own superintendent, who was also once her principal, describes her as a person who is honest, sincere, and one who "never quits learning."
Pam Milliken's belief in the principles of This We Believe has guided her work as a middle level educator. She understands the unique nature of the young adolescent and ensures that students in her school are engaged in active learning. Under her leadership, the school created a shared vision that promotes staff collaboration, encourages interdisciplinary teaming, and holds high expectations for all learners coupled with a passion to help every student succeed. Her can-do attitude has helped maintain this adherence to middle level philosophy despite budget constraints that resulted in significant staff reductions.
Mrs. Milliken is a tireless advocate for middle level education. She regularly travels throughout her state to share best practices for starting and maintaining middle schools. She is a frequent workshop presenter at conferences and speaks often at local universities. At all times, her message is one designed to promote, improve, and support middle level education. Not one to accept the status quo, she is often known to challenge others by asking, "As good as we are, how can we be better?"
Pam Milliken is the epitome of a middle level educator – she passionately cares for young adolescents and has dedicated her life to seeing that they are given the best education within her power to give. She has clearly used her skills in leadership and advocacy to fulfill her vision of a quality education for every young adolescent.