Zsuzsanna Diamond, 37, of Little Rock, a fourth grade teacher at Otter Creek Elementary, received the 2012 Milken Educator award and its accompanying $25,000 check Monday during a ceremony at her school.
Diamond said afterwards that she probably would use the money to fund a trip to her native Hungary, which she hasn’t visited in seven years.
The foundation is presenting the award to up to 40 educators across America this fall. There have been 69 Milken Award winners in Arkansas. Nationwide, more than 2,500 teachers have won the award.
As with previous recipients, the winner was kept secret until it was announced in a school assembly. Dr. Gary Stark with the Milken Family Foundation was on hand to help present the award. When Gov. Mike Beebe announced Diamond’s name, students cheered wildly and she cupped her hands to her face. Visibly stunned, she walked to the podium and accepted the award.
Beebe said Diamond serves unofficially as the math coach for her fellow teachers. On last year’s state benchmark exams, about 90 percent of her students scored proficient or advanced in literacy, which were some of the highest scores in the state.
“Her colleagues say that she teaches to the group, but she focuses on individual needs,” Beebe said. “They can cite example after example of young people who have really seen that light bulb come on with her instruction.”
When she accepted the award, Diamond, who was wearing a sticker on her shirt reading, “I can,” credited a first grade teacher from Austria, Szegedi Teri Ne’ni, for believing in her when other teachers said she would not succeed. That teacher remained a presence throughout her life and even attended her wedding. “Someone believed in me, and I believe in you,” she told the students.
A mother of three, she came to America 14 years ago with her husband, William, an American whom she met when he was stationed with the military in Hungary. She has been in Arkansas 12 years and is teaching her sixth year in the district.
She had seen the Milken Award described on the Arkansas Department of Education’s website when she was first certified to teach in this state.
“I was able to tell my husband that it would be really nice to get one of those one day, but that was absolutely not my priority,” she said. “I am not teaching for things to get. I love to teach children.”