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Knoxville, Millington Educators Each Surprised by $25,000 Milken Awards

Two Tennessee educators—Paula Franklin, a Knox County teacher, and Katherine Watkins, a teacher in Millington Municipal Schools—were each awarded $25,000 from the Milken Family Foundation. The awards were presented by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken at back-to-back surprise ceremonies in Knoxville and Millington, Tenn.


“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state. Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said. 


The first surprise event of the day honored Paula Franklin, who teaches Advanced Placement (AP) government at West High School in Knoxville. Though the course is challenging, 82 percent of her students pass the AP government exam with an average score of 3.59, compared to the national average score of 2.65 out of a possible 5 points. Even more notable, enrollment in her course has doubled since she started teaching it.


As a member of her school’s leadership and instructional focus teams, Franklin participates in weekly data-driven meetings concerning student progress, celebrations, and areas of improvement. In addition, Franklin leads professional development sessions for other government teachers throughout Knox County and mentors new teachers.


“When teachers prepare their students to become self-reliant adults, it makes all the difference in their lives,” Milken said. “I was fortunate to have public school teachers who encouraged me to reflect on and affirm my role in American democracy. Paula Franklin is that type of educator. She teaches her students to think critically and develop their focus for college, career and life. Congratulations to Paula on this award and for being truly deserving of the name, ‘teacher.’”


The second Milken Educator Award was given to Katherine Watkins, who teaches English at Millington Central High School while also serving as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator. As a teacher of AP English literature and composition, dual enrollment, and 11th grade English, Watkins is always looking to improve her practice through reflection and seeking out feedback.


Watkins is also actively involved outside of the classroom by serving as yearbook advisor and as the National Honor Society (NHS) advisor. As a believer in a well-rounded education, Watkins spends summers teaching at a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) summer camp for middle school students.


“Katherine Watkins knows the value of preparing young people for success in an interconnected world,” Milken said. “Literature, and the history it tells, ties us to the generations before us and provides us with the knowledge and tools that inform our own roles in the world around us. Katherine’s lessons are beyond educational: They are palpable. I congratulate her on this award and am confident that she will impact the profession for decades to come.”


In Tennessee, 66 educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation since the program began in the state in 1992. Over the past 25 years that Tennessee has been a part of the program, more than $1.6 million has been awarded to Tennessee educators.


You can find additional information and pictures from the ceremony on the Milken Educator Awards website. For media inquiries, contact Sara Gast, director of communications, at (615) 532-6260 or