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Phillips Academy Educator Wins “Oscars of Teaching”

Korri Cunningham, fourth from right, a teacher at John Herbert Phillips Academy, was joined by Schools Superintendent Mark Sullivan, Ed.D., third from right, and other education leaders, as she was presented with the prestigious Milken Educator Award. Cunningham, is among up to 75 recipients across the country this school year who will be awarded as part of the Milken Family. (Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson)
By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson
The Birmingham Times

A Birmingham instructor on Wednesday was awarded one of the nation’s most prestigious teaching awards — the Milken Educator Award that has been referred to by many as “the Oscars of teaching.”

Korri Cunningham, a teacher at John Herbert Phillips Academy and the only one in Alabama to receive the recognition, was surprised with the award which includes $25,000 to spend how she chooses, in addition to an all-expense paid trip to an educational forum in Los Angeles in June to meet other Milken winners.

The national award publicly recognizes excellence in teaching not only to inspire educators, but also students and communities to “celebrate, elevate and activate” the K-12 teaching profession.

Cunningham, an 8th grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher who now works as the International Baccalaureate Coordinator at Phillips working with students and teachers, said she knew very early that she would one day teach.

“I would sit and watch my teacher during naptime,” said Cunningham. “I would watch her every move even though I was supposed to be asleep. I always knew this is what I wanted to do.”

“I knew that I wanted to become a teacher in Kindergarten,” Cunningham said during her acceptance speech. “My teacher had such an impact on my life, and I spent a lot of my nap time just studying her. I knew I needed to be just like her. She treated each of us like we were her world.”

Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Sullivan said Cunningham’s passion for teaching and learning is an inspiration to her students and peers. “Mrs. Cunningham finds joy in helping others grow academically,” Sullivan said. “Her dedication to scholars and to teaching helps make Birmingham City Schools strong.”

Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by panels appointed by state departments of education; and those who stand out are recommended for the award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Cunningham’s award was presented by Stephanie Bishop, a 2001 Milken Educator Award winner and Milken Educator Awards Vice President.

“In sports, athletes get gold medals and high school trophies, entertainers get American Music Awards and Oscars in science and medicine, there are Nobel prizes, but consider for a moment the ones making all of the awards happen haven’t been part of the celebration. We’re here to fix that,” said Bishop.

The Phillips Academy teacher said she’s still working her dream job. I’ve been coming through these doors for seven years, and I still enjoy walking in here each day.”

Cunningham earned an Associate of Art in English from Lawson State Community College in 2011, a Bachelor of Science in secondary education-English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2015, and a Master of Education in instructional leadership from the University of West Alabama in 2021.

To watch the livestream of the awards ceremony from this morning, visit this link. For more about Cunningham and her background, see her profile on the official Milken Educator Awards page.

Updated at 7:53 p.m. on 10/29/2023 to clarify the selection process and add correct title for Stephanie Bishop.