Hoover teacher wins education Oscar

Published 4:33 pm Monday, October 19, 2009

Berry Middle School Teacher Dilhani Uswatte found herself pleasantly surprised Oct. 14 by a schoolwide assembly in her honor.

The Milken Family Foundation named the eighth-grade math teacher a Milken National Educator and awarded her with a $25,000 check.

“I am still just amazed,” Unswatte said. “The best part was sitting down that night and reading the e–mails from former students and parents congratulating me and telling me how well they were doing in math now.”

Unswatte originally taught science in Canada before getting a second degree in mathematics and coming to Berry Middle in 2002 to teach.

“I found math was where my passion was,” Unswatte said. “I was always asking myself, ‘But why, but why, but why.’

“This entire idea of people saying, ‘I just don’t get math,’ I want to erase that. There is no reason why people shouldn’t ‘get math.’”

Principal Kathleen Wheaton said Unswatte works to ensure her students understand the whys of math. She doesn’t want them simply to memorize it.

“Her classes are always filled with eager students who can’t wait to hear what she has planned for the lesson,” Wheaton said. “She is an excellent teacher and an encouraging, supportive mentor to students, colleagues and student teachers. She is the teacher we want our children and grandchildren to have.”

The Milken Family Foundation’s 23rd-annual coast-to-coast tour rewards educators in each state with more than $1.2 million in cash awards.

Uswatte never expected the “Education Oscar,” as the awards are called, because administrators disguised the assembly as an event for the state superintendent to commend the school on its student assessment progress.

Unswatte said the funny thing is she had seen the award in a colleague’s office. She had asked about the award and remembers thinking, “Wow, what an amazing thing.”

“I knew about the foundation and their support of education. I didn’t know they went around making teachers feel like superstars,” Unswatte said .

State Superintendent Dr. Joe Morton said Unswatte exemplifies what a professional educator is all about.

“She meets the needs of her students and goes the extra mile to do what needs to be done for her students to learn,” Morton said.

Unswatte isn’t sure how she’ll spend the money although she said she’d like to think of a way to give back to Berry Middle. She also expects to put some of the money toward her two sons education.

Educators are recommended by an independent blue-ribbon panel appointed by each state’s department of education. Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators.