Middle school social studies teacher wins prestigious Milken Educator Award


Wednesday was a day a beloved Ballyshannon Middle School teacher will never forget.

Kevin Dailey, an eighth grade social studies teacher, was awarded the prestigious Milken Educator Award along with an unrestricted cash reward of $25,000.

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman and Commissioner Jason E. Glass joined Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop in presenting Dailey with the award Wednesday morning at the middle school’s gymnasium. 

“I am so happy to be in Boone County today with the Milken Foundation to celebrate Kevin Dailey, one of Kentucky’s outstanding educators,” Glass said. “Mr. Dailey works tirelessly in his pursuit of student success and intense desire to give back to the community. Not only does he challenge and engage his students through some of the most creative projects and innovative practices, he still instills upon them the importance of being a good citizen. When eighth graders leave his classroom, they take with them a strong foundation that assets them up for positive experiences in high school.”

Dailey, shocked by the moment, walked out to receive his award in front of a packed gymnasium of Ballyshannon students. The moment evoked feelings of genuine emotion for Dailey.

“Don’t cry was the first thing that entered my mind, and just shock,” Dailey said. “It isn’t real.”

Dailey is an exemplary teacher. He’s is in his third year teaching U.S. history at Ballyshannon and 10th year of his teaching career. 

“I didn’t start my career as a teacher. I was an aerospace designer. I designed things. I ended up going back to teaching from a lot of different chances and reflection on my life. Make sure it’s something you want to do,” Dailey said. “There are not the benefits, there’s not the pay, there’s not all of the ceremonies. There’s not all those external accolades so it’s definitely something you should be passionate about.”

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Dailey said he was raised in a poor family that supported him. In high school, while he was going through a tough stretch of his life, Dailey was inspired by a teacher that made him feel like he was worth it.

“In 10th grade, I went into Ms. Foxx’s computer repair class at Holmes High School and she made me feel like I was something,” Dailey said. “She had a really big influence on me.”

Dailey earned a bachelor’s in 2011 and a master’s in 2012, both in social studies secondary education, from the University of Kentucky. Through the University of Kentucky’s Confucius Institute, he had the opportunity of teaching in China and attended the Foreign Policy Association’s Teacher Training Institute. Dailey attended the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center for Teaching Scholars. Dailey is certified to teach “We The People,” a program that promotes civic competence and responsibility for middle schoolers. 

He uses creativity to diversify his lesson plans. For example, during a unit on the origin of goods and services during colonial times, the class invited faculty and staff to join them in a hot chocolate tasting, with different versions incorporating spices, salt and other savory flavors brought to America by colonists from different cultures and growing regions. During Dailey’s colonial studies unit, students keep written journals that detail explorers’ stories and looking at historical documents to create diagrams showing colonial relationships

Dailey emphasizes writing, speaking, listening, reading skills within his classroom. Dailey collaborates with other teachers outside of the social studies department. He collaborated with a colleague in Ballyshannon’s science department for Project Citizen, a project-based learning program that teaches students about public policy and supports their efforts to press community and government leaders to effect change. 

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The immense impact Dailey has on his students can be statistically measured. More students in Boone County Schools enroll in AP European History in high school from Ballyshannon than any other feeder middle school. The majority of Dailey’s eighth grade students end up enrolling in AP Human Geography as ninth graders.

Dailey is one of his district’s biggest advocates for fact-based instruction and equity in education curriculum. He led an effort to change social studies rubric to address bias. At Ballyshannon, he was one of the first teachers to promote standards-based learning and has developed multiple rubrics to measure student’s mastery.

Dailey was elected by his peers to Ballyshannon’s site-based council and has presented professional development on the flipped classroom at the Kentucky Council for Teachers of Social Studies conference. He also hosts teacher interns and is a leader on the school’s Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports team, creating a student-run “spirit store” that rewards positive student behaviors. Two years ago, Dailey’s construction club built a popular outdoor library for the school and community.

Despite his appreciation for the accolade bestowed upon him, Dailey took time to speak on the challenges of pursuing a lifelong career in education.

“Teachers don’t really get recognized for a whole lot of things. If anything, I think the profession of teaching gets vilified a lot. We take an enormous burden from our community,” Dailey said. “I think our students realize that and our parents realize that. It means a lot. As far as the students, everyday is the challenge as with every profession but they’re the reason why we all get up and keep coming back despite any of the challenges.”

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In addition to the financial prize, Milken Educator Award recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

The honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education. In addition, they will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFFs) mentoring program, in which freshman Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.