By Calie Joy Herbst Special to Published Oct 02, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Having taught in Milwaukee Public Schools for five years, I get to see great teachers educate young minds every day. Ordinary days are filled with extraordinary moments in classrooms across the district. We usually don't hear much about these daily acts of dedication and compassion. As do most things in life, they go unnoticed, except perhaps by the students whose lives they touch.

But at Ronald Reagan IB High School, where I teach Spanish, Wednesday was a different kind of day for one teacher who stood out among educators across the nation.

Anticipation was building as every student at the school filed into the auditorium this morning for a surprise assembly. The jazz band played its upbeat tunes and television cameras surrounded the area. Dignitaries from around the city of Milwaukee sat on the stage happily chatting among themselves.

State superintendent Tony Evers was there. Our district superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton sat next to him. Mayor Tom Barrett joined them along with School Board Director Meagan Holman. School principal Mike Roemer was there, too, of course. We knew something was happening, but we didn’t know exactly what. Perhaps a visit from the Governor? Michelle Obama?

After some enthusiastic words from Dr. Thornton, a representative from the Milken Family Foundation in California announced that one teacher from our school had been selected for their prestigious national educator award.

The winner of one of the 2013 Milken Educator Awards, or the "Oscar" of the education world, would also win $25,000 that they could spend as they wish.

The honor ultimately went to my colleague Sarah Berndt, a Spanish teacher, technology teacher and school newspaper advisor at Reagan IB.

Berndt accepted the award to a standing ovation. She was composed enough to say a few words of gratitude to her students and comment on how she couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Those who work with Sarah witness her dedication to excellence every day, through her positive enthusiasm and differentiation of learning for students of all abilities. Her classroom bursts with color and creative energy, welcoming us all. But to see her recognized publicly and with a financial reward attached to it was truly an exciting moment for the entire school.

Congratulations, Sarah! And congratulations to Ronald Reagan IB High School and Milwaukee Public Schools!

Calie Joy Herbst Special to
Calie Herbst is a teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools and editor of She received a Bachelors in Spanish and Sociology from UW-Madison and a Masters of Teaching Spanish from Marquette.

She has travelled extensively through the Spanish-speaking world, but her favorite place in the world is Milwaukee. She lives in Bay View with her husband, two year old son, Hudson and her two dogs. She and her family love to check out the latest events in Milwaukee and spend time at their cabin in Winter, Wis.

In her free time, her ideal self enjoys doing yoga, reading one book a week, and cooking with organic, local foods. Her real self just ends up watching terrible reality television.