For Immediate Release
Contact: Dale Wetzel, Public Information Specialist
Jamestown High Principal Wins Prestigious Milken Award
JAMESTOWN, N.D., Nov. 21, 2017 – State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler congratulated Jamestown High School Principal Adam Gehlhar on Tuesday for receiving the prestigious Milken Educator Award, which has been described as the “Oscar of teaching.”
Gehlhar (pronounced GAY’-lur) was presented with the honor Tuesday during an assembly at Jamestown High, where he is in his second year as principal. He is the first North Dakota Milken recipient since 2009 and the third in the past 10 years.
The high school assembly’s purpose was vaguely described to preserve the surprise for Gehlhar, who will receive an unrestricted $25,000 prize from the Milken Family Foundation. The foundation chooses award recipients from across the country.
Gehlhar’s eyes reddened when the announcement was made, to cheers from his colleagues and students who chanted his name. “I’m still kind of in disbelief,” he said afterward. “I don’t know that I deserve all that honor or credit. It is not about me, it is about the kids.”
Robert Lech, superintendent of the Jamestown school district, called Gehlhar “a brilliant educator” and “a very innovative principal, and I think what’s important about how he innovates is that he understands how change needs to happen. He focuses first on making the case about why change needs to happen. That’s a really important piece that is missed sometimes.”
“When you are making change, it is important to recognize all of the things that are being done well already, and then target ways in which we have areas to develop,” Lech said. “I think he’s navigated that really well, in focusing on celebrating the things that are going well, while building support for how we can do better in some areas.”
Baesler, who spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony, said she first met Gehlhar several years ago when he was teaching in the West Fargo school district.
“I recognized his energy, his vision, his innovative approach to making sure that he was reaching students where they needed to be met, to expand their learning, and really apply the knowledge that they were learning in the classroom,” Baesler said.
Gehlhar “encouraged his students to be curious. He encouraged them to have a growth mindset, and not be afraid to fail, but to really learn from that failure experience, and establish that sense of grit and rigor that we all need in our life,” Baesler said. “I think those things combined have really identified Adam as one of our best young educators.”
Gehlhar was a teacher and administrator in West Fargo’s public schools before he moved to Jamestown. He began as an instructor at the district’s STEM Center (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and later worked as an assistant principal at West Fargo High School and Cheney Middle School.
“I was fortunate to be able to start in a place where we got to envision what learning could look like from the ground up,” Gehlhar said. “I had inspiring leaders as well as a great team to work with me there. We really had an opportunity to envision the future of education, and to think about what was possible in school, instead of what is not possible.”
In West Fargo, Gehlhar created an internship program through which students worked with a number of businesses and professionals, including engineers, architects and lawyers. He organized “You’re Hired,” a day-long exercise in which teams of students used an engineering design process to solve problems.
Gehlhar is an advocate of project-based learning, an approach by which students learn and draw upon knowledge in several disciplines to accomplish projects and solve problems.
“We know that when students learn by doing, they are experiencing the world,” Gehlhar said in one Fargo talk. “And the challenges that they’re going to face in the 21st Century are challenges that are complex, and don’t fit within the boundaries that we have within schools.”
Gehlhar is an alumnus of North Dakota State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in social science education and a master’s in secondary education leadership. He served for 12 years in the Army National Guard, including two combat tours in Iraq. A combat engineer and squad leader, Gehlhar was named the 2005 Soldier of the Year for the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion.
Candidates for the Milken award are picked through a confidential process and interviewed by state education officials. The Milken Family Foundation makes the final choices.
Elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and other education professionals are eligible. To be chosen, candidates must show exceptional educational talent and accomplishments both inside and outside the classroom.
The Milken Educator Awards program was established in 1987. Fifty-three educators, including Gehlhar, have received Milken awards since North Dakota joined the program in 1992. Before Gehlhar, the most recent honoree was Barry Olson, a science teacher at Fargo’s Ben Franklin Middle School, who won the award in 2009. Olson was one of a group of North Dakota Milken award winners who attended Tuesday’s ceremony.