Bellevue math teacher is surprised with prestigious Milken award — and $25,000 prize

By: - November 16, 2023 7:00 pm

Students cheer on Jacob Eitzen as he crosses the gym to accept his Milken Educator Award. (Courtesy of Milken Family Foundation)

BELLEVUE — Jacob Eitzen is a numbers guy, teaching math, algebra, statistics.

He’s also a Husker fan.

In the classroom, math teacher and new Milken Educator Jacob Eitzen gets back to business. (Courtesy of Milken Family Foundation)

Add in a creative streak and determination to reach students by infusing game day and other fun stats into math concepts and that equals, well, a Milken Educator Award winner.

Thursday, Eitzen, a teacher at Bellevue West High School, was surprised at an all-school assembly with the national award — hailed as the “Oscar of Teaching” — and a $25,000 cash prize that comes with it.

Supporters say Eitzen goes beyond the traditional boundaries of instruction to create an engaging and relatable learning experience. Since taking the helm of AP Statistics, the class has expanded from 20 students to nearly 80 each year.

“Jacob Eitzen really embraces the concept of finding ways to help every student,” said Nebraska Education Commissioner Brian Maher. “His leadership in identifying students who need help in the district through technology and his ability to help teachers reach those students exemplifies what it means to be a teacher.”

A team including Maher and Milken Educator Awards vice president Stephanie Bishop presented the award that recognizes outstanding K-12 educators. Selected by the Milken organization, recipients and most everyone else are kept in the dark until the announcement at school assemblies.

The Milken group will honor up to 75 recipients nationally in 2023-24 as part of the Milken Family Foundation’s “Journey to the 3,000th Milken Educator.”

This school year marks $75 million in financial prizes to individuals and more than $144 million invested in the Milken Educator Award national network overall, according to a news release.

The stated goal is to elevate the K-12 profession and inspire young people to pursue teaching careers.

Math teacher Jacob Eitzen doesn’t believe what he just heard, but his proud colleagues start to cheer. Jacob is the recipient of a 2023-24 Nebraska Milken Educator Award. (Courtesy of Milken Family Foundation)

Among attributes that pushed Eitzen into the spotlight was his sponsor role in Bellevue West’s National Honor Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapters. He trains colleagues to utilize an online intervention program called Edmentum to monitor, track and support students scoring below the 20th percentile on annual benchmark assessments.

“Jacob Eitzen’s story is one of passion, innovation and commitment,” said Bishop, a 2001 Milken Educator from Virginia. “Through his ability to connect with students using creative teaching methods, coupled with his leadership roles within the school and community, Jacob creates a positive and impactful learning environment for all. Through his unwavering dedication, Jacob not only imparts knowledge but also instills a love for learning that extends far beyond the classroom.”

The Milken Educator Award, created in 1987, is not a lifetime achievement honor, the group emphasized. 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.”  

Honorees are invited to an all-paid forum in Los Angeles to network among other Milken educators. They receive mentorship opportunities.

Eitzen, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, can use the money however he wishes.

Said Maher: “We are grateful to have him teaching in Nebraska.” 


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.