Denfeld News

Oct. 12, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

Denfeld educator wins $25,000 national teaching prize
By Sarah Horner

Rumors were flying at Denfeld High School on Thursday about the reason for an unexpected assembly.

Some students joked Disney star Hannah Montana was going to be making a surprise appearance at the school. Others heard a politician or athlete was scheduled to speak.

“People have been saying everything from President Bush to Barack Obama to Brett Favre,” Denfeld senior Adam Upton said before the gathering. “Oh, we’ve also heard rumors going on about Torii Hunter.”

Nobody was more surprised than Tom Tusken to learn the real reason behind the all-school assembly — plus appearances from Duluth Superintendent Keith Dixon, Mayor Herb Bergson, former football star Rosey Grier and Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren — turned out to be him.

The Denfeld social studies teacher of 13 years was being recognized for winning the Milken Educator Award, a national honor only 35 educators in Minnesota have received since the first was awarded 21 years ago. It was the second time a teacher from Duluth earned the award, which comes with a $25,000 check. Only a few administrators at Denfeld knew about the honor before it was announced Thursday.

It took a minute for the surprise to sink in before Tusken made his way to the front of the room to accept the honor.

“The whole thing is quite shocking,” he said. He said he had been having a rough day before the assembly. “I was feeling kind of discouraged and depressed; one of those days where you wonder if you are making a difference… To go from the depths of the work day to someone saying thank you and in a way like this; it’s mind-blowing.”

He turned the moment into a teaching opportunity, telling students he would promise to continue to give all of himself to the success of Denfeld if they promised to do the same.

The students didn’t seem a bit disappointed to see Tusken at the front of their auditorium instead of Hannah Montana or Brett Favre.

When his name was called, everyone got to their feet and started clapping and shouting. Several started chanting, “Tusken, Tusken.”

In addition to his teaching duties, Tusken has been integrally involved in developing a program at Denfeld aimed at creating a culture of success for incoming ninth graders. He also created a summer transition academy at Denfeld and serves as the district’s social studies curriculum specialist, as well as having a hand in several other educational efforts.

Lowell Milken, the chairman of the Milken Family Foundation and the person who handed Tusken his award, said Tusken was a natural choice.

“First and foremost is that he is a strong instructional leader; he sets high expectations for his kids and he expects them to achieve them,” Milken said. “He is also a powerful mentor for other teachers. That is something we are always looking for — someone not only highly accomplished in their own right but who also helps make other teachers more effective.”

Ed Crawford, the principal at Denfeld, echoed those comments.

“This teacher represents the best of the best when it comes to teaching in this district,” he said.

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