Oct. 12, 2007
Denfeld educator wins $25,000 national
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
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,
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
“This teacher represents the best of the
best when it comes to teaching in this district,” he said.