Watertown teacher receives $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Turbak is the first teacher from the Watertown School District to win the award.
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 5:25 PM CST
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WATERTOWN, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Every year, the Milken Family Foundation awards outstanding teachers across the country a prize of $25,000 for their excellence in education.

On Friday, a Watertown elementary teacher was one of those outstanding teachers recognized for her efforts.

Abby Turbak has been teaching first grade at McKinley Elementary in Watertown for over eight years. Turbak walked into the school assembly on Friday morning thinking the Milken Educator Award would be going to one of her colleagues.

”I just was sitting by my students saying, ‘Shhh, we got to listen to who it is. Let’s see who it is.’ I just had no idea,” said Turbak.

Turbak was surprised when her name was announced.

”I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I’m just kind of shocked. It’s just hard to take in because I just do it for the kids, and my coworkers are just amazing, so anybody here would truly deserve this award too,” said Turbak.

Turbak is the first teacher from the Watertown School District to win the award.

”What sets her really apart from everyone is she’s a leader. She’s a leader amongst her colleagues, but she’s also a leader in the district. She has a passion for technology and math. She has a passion for learning. She’s always looking for the next best thing and how she can make her teaching practices better,” said McKinley Elementary principal Shannon Knopf.

Turbak’s passion for technology became increasingly valuable for the school district when the pandemic hit.

”During COVID, when everyone was working from home and teaching from home, Abby was able to work with her fellow teachers and help them establish Google Classroom sites, so that was really invaluable,” said Greg Gallagher, Senior Program Director for the Milken Family Foundation.

For Turbak, winning the award didn’t really sink in until her son, who attends McKinley Elementary, rushed to congratulate her.

”I couldn’t look at anybody because I knew that I would get emotional. When he came up and just said, ‘Mom, I didn’t even expect this today,’ I was just like ‘Me either.’ It just made me emotional and it just makes those things set in a little bit more because it’s just surreal,” said Turbak.

On top of a $25,000 prize, Turbak will also get an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles in April to participate in the Milken Educator Awards Forum.