Foothills teacher wins Milken Award
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
October 31, 2003
By Jennifer Sterba
Spanish teacher Sheryl Castro of Catalina Foothills High School was awarded
$25,000 Thursday at a surprise school assembly before her peers and students.
Teachers and students leapt to their feet in an ovation for the somewhat
bewildered Castro - who at first just sat there with her hand over her heart,
her eyes wide. Nearby colleagues hugged her and dragged her to her feet.
"She's a phenomenal influence," said Lin Shackman, assistant principal at
Catalina Foothills, where Castro teaches. "She's open in sharing. She's a master
teacher. Her colleagues respect her highly."
Brothers Lowell and Michael Milken established the National Educator Awards
program in 1985 to reward, retain and attract quality teachers.
Participating states' departments of education identify candidates for
evaluation and selection. How they do that is confidential, and the program does
not include a nomination or application procedure.
Castro - one of 100 teachers recognized this year - joins a family of 1,977
outstanding teachers from 47 states and the District of Columbia given the award
by the Milken Family Foundation. The private foundation was established in 1982
to advance inventive and effective ways of helping people help themselves.
The foundation has handed out $49 million since the program's inception - $2.5
million this year alone. The money is an unrestricted award and can be spent at
the recipient's discretion.
"It never becomes old because each one of the teachers has an individual story,"
said co-founder Lowell Milken. "It's always exciting to see the students'
reaction and admiration of other teachers."
When Milken asked for the envelope containing Castro's name as a winner,
students enthusiastically provided the drum roll - banging their feet on the
"I had no idea," Castro said. "It's a good thing I didn't wear my jeans."
Castro said she didn't know yet how she would spend the money, but that it would
be on "something good."
She graduated from Kearney State College in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in
Spanish and German. She continued her education with a master's degree in
20th-century Spanish and Spanish-American Literature from the University of
Nebraska in 1986.
Castro, who also has an English as a Second Language endorsement, has 20 years
of teaching experience. She spent nine of those years teaching Spanish to grades
nine through 12 at Catalina Foothills.
"She really connects with the students. She's at that same level with us and she
doesn't talk down to us," said sophomore Dana Behnke, a 15-year-old student of
Castro's. "That creates an atmosphere that's easy to learn in and is more
Sophomore Shannon Johnson, 15, agreed.
"She's really enthusiastic and you can tell she really has a passion about what
she's doing," Johnson said. "You realize that Spanish is important and can be
fun. It's just motivating."
It's Castro's ability to inspire her students that makes her so valuable to the
district, Shackman said.
"Kids are active. They're engaged. They're learning," Shackman said.
Castro said she would describe her teaching style as relaxed, yet focused -
something Castro said isn't difficult to keep up, regardless of good or bad
"You change your outlook in the classroom," she said. "It's not their fault if
the washer at home isn't working. You walk into the classroom with a clean
* Contact reporter Jennifer Sterba at 573-4191 or at