Foundation names Gateway teacher among best in country
At age 8, Jennifer Hoffner would play teacher, arranging her Cabbage Patch dolls and her little brother Jim in school desks around a chalkboard in her bedroom or on the back porch of the family's home near Harrison City.
“She would tell the dolls to pay attention,” recalls her father, Jim Hoffner, 61, of Hilton Head, S.C. “She would talk to them about how they were learning, ask them if they liked the class.”
Thirty years later, the now married Jennifer Hoffner-Turkowski is an elementary school teacher in the Gateway School District in Monroeville. And a very good one, according to the Milken Family Foundation in Santa Monica, Calif.
On Tuesday, the foundation gave her a $25,000 check and a 2012 Milken Educator Award — the teaching equivalent of an Oscar — for being one of the best teachers in the country. The presentation took place during a surprise ceremony at University Park Elementary School, where she teaches first grade.
“You walk into my room, there's a lot of energy — not just from me, but my students,” a shocked Hoffner-Turkowski, 38, of North Huntingdon in Westmoreland County, said afterward. “I have high expectations.”
She is one of up to 40 teachers in the country getting a Milken award this year. Since the foundation first began presenting the awards in 1987, it has given more than $63 million to more than 2,500 teachers throughout the country. She is the 51st winner from Pennsylvania.
Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, said the prize is given to unsung teachers in early or mid-career who have achieved results from innovative practices.
“You can't apply. We don't accept nominations,” Foley said. “You don't find us. We find you.”
The foundation consults with state departments of education for potential winners. The departments get suggestions for recipients from educators around their state.
“We are truly blessed with tens of thousands of great teachers, and Miss H is truly an outstanding example of what we do,” said Ron Tomalis, Pennsylvania secretary of education.
Hoffner-Turkowski said she doesn't know exactly how she'll spend the prize money, but she expects to give some to the school district and use some for her children. She has two sons, Zacary, 12, and Ty James, 7, and a daughter, Makenzie, 9.
Hoffner-Turkowski's path to being a teacher took a U-turn while she was at Penn State. Lured by higher salaries, she switched her major from education to health policy administration. She worked at nursing homes for several years but told her parents she regretted not being a teacher.
They encouraged her to switch back to education and gave her some money to help get her teaching certificate. She has taught in the Gateway district for eight years.
“We're happy she's doing what she loves. She's a teacher,” said her father.
Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Rutherford hits jackpot with Kessel
- Rossi: Wild Wednesday proves Steelers rule
- 2B Walker, Pirates smash through Tigers pitching in road victory
- Penguins notebook: Rutherford proves savvy in deal
- Penguins get their man in making trade with Toronto for Kessel
- Pirates notebook: Cole cool about hostile comment
- Pittsburgh a big draw for tourists on July 4th weekend
- Steelers submit application to play host to Super Bowl in 2023
- Ligonier Township officer’s widow to file civil suit
- Judge revokes bail for Plum High School teacher
- New Kensington residents rally in support of 82-year-old robbery victim