‘It’s surreal’: Richmond teacher surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — What started off as a typical Wednesday for a teacher at Lucille M. Brown Middle School in Richmond turned out to be anything but.

Just two weeks ago, Ryan James confided in his principal, telling her things felt off for him this year.

“He actually said, ‘Dr. Gaines, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m just not feeling it this year,” Dr. Stacy Gaines recalled of her conversation with James.

Little did James know that a few days later would be one of the most memorable of his teaching career.

On Wednesday, James was surprised to be presented with the Milken Education Award, which recognizes and rewards teachers, principals and other public school administrators who promote excellence and innovation.

“A teacher who is characterized by compassion, commitment, and dedication,” Lowell Milken with the Milken Family Foundation said.

He also took home a check for $25,000 which he can use however he chooses. He learned the news during a surprise assembly in the middle school gymnasium.

And this isn’t an award he applied for — the award found him.

“It’s surreal,” James said. “I was sitting here getting ready for basketball tryouts.”

Even on such a big day, James was still thinking of his students first.

“Hard work pays off,” he said. “One of the big things I love doing in my class is just being as transparent as possible and just show them that I’m human too.”

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who attended the surprise ceremony, said James is more than just a leader in the Commonwealth.

“Thank you for recognizing, ill say this … the greatest teacher in the entire United States of America right here,” McAuliffe said.

James is one of 45 educations chosen for the award this year.

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