Hellstern Teacher Wins $25,000 Milken Award

Hellstern Middle School mathematics teacher Michael Tapee was recognized with a 2023-24 Milken Educator Award today at a surprise presentation in the school’s cafeteria.

“My first thought was that that was really exciting,” Tapee said, noting every Hellstern faculty member could have won the award.

The educator of eight years was the first in the nation to receive this year's $25,000 recognition and became part of a community of Milken award recipients.

The award was presented by philanthropist and education visionary Lowell Milken. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Department of Education Secretary Jacob Oliva and Springdale Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jared Cleveland and Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse joined Milken to surprise Tapee with the award before cheering students, proud colleagues, dignitaries and media.

“I created the Milken Educator Awards more than three decades ago to say in a public way that greatness in education should be celebrated, recognized and rewarded," Milken said. "Michael Tapee has not only exceeded academic expectations with his students, but has also instilled in them a deep sense of enthusiasm, curiosity and discovery that they will carry through their journey of learning and life."

Milken is the founder of the Milken Educator Awards and chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation.

Tapee ties instruction to real-world situations for his sixth and seventh grade students, whether it is building rockets, designing apartment floor plans, or speaking with NASA scientists, Milken said. Beyond the classroom, Tapee helps lead Hellstern’s award-winning Herobotics (robotics) program, an initiative he co-created, as well as serves on the school’s guiding coalition, advances professional development, and mentors new teachers.

Tapee will have the opportunity to broaden his impact as a member of the national Milken Educator Network, a growing group of nearly 2,900 professionals working to shape the future of education. The teacher may use the cash prize however he chooses.

“Congratulations to Michael Tapee on being named a Milken Educator,” Oliva said. “From his hands-on, interactive lessons to his commitment to the school community, Mr. Tapee is focused on student learning. Because of his passion for education, his students develop a love for STEM, and his leadership and creativity benefit everyone around him. He is deserving of this honor, and we are pleased to be a part of today’s celebration.”

Tapee is among up to 75 recipients across the country this school year who will be awarded as part of the Milken Family Foundation’s Journey to the 3,000th Milken Educator. This season will reach $75 million in individual financial prizes spanning the length of the initiative and more than $144 million invested in the Milken Educator Award national network overall, empowering recipients to “Celebrate, Elevate, and Activate” the K-12 profession and inspiring young, capable people to pursue teaching as a career.

Outstanding educators like Tapee are not aware of their candidacy for the award. Recipients are sought out while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities afforded by the award.

Tapee expressed his appreciation for his parents, siblings, middle school science teacher, robotics coach Corey Bankston and band teachers Bob Beshears and Jacob Ramírez for their support over the years.

“I’m very thankful for them,” Tapee said.