For six years now as Governor, I have discussed the important tie between education and the economic well-being of our State. High-performing students will become tomorrow's highly skilled employees, and those skills will attract investment and build new business. Arkansas has made a lot of progress in preparing our young people for knowledge-based jobs, and now ranks fifth nationally in overall K-12 education.
While state and local leadership has helped bring us this far, it is our teachers who truly make our accomplishments possible. We talk about the transformation our educators must achieve, but we seldom discuss their passionate efforts inside the classroom. Today, I want to emphasize the amazing work they are doing.
Each year, teachers in our state receive two major awards for their innovative and effective teaching methods. Alexia Weimer, a kindergarten teacher at Avondale Elementary School in West Memphis, has been named the Arkansas Teacher of the Year for 2013. Part of a national honors program, the award carries with it a year of paid administrative leave to serve as an advisor to the Arkansas Board of Education. She'll also receive a $15,000 check from the Walton Family Foundation, which sponsors the award.
Ms. Weimer uses technology to engage her students and has high expectations for them to succeed. She feels strongly that educators must create parent-school partnerships to reinforce student learning, since learning at home is critical to a child's retention of information. So, as a teaching strategy, she developed educational resources and instruction for parents. She sought out and obtained a grant to pay for the needed materials. And after students used those materials tailored to their needs at home, their test scores improved dramatically.
The other award is the Milken Educator Award. This prestigious national award goes to teachers who never know that they are even nominated until a surprise announcement. It comes with a $25,000 cash prize. This year, it went to Zsuzsanna Diamond, a fourth-grade teacher at Otter Creek Elementary School in Little Rock. Her passion for teaching and proven aptitude lie in the subject of mathematics. She assists her fellow teachers with math-instruction techniques, helping students in all grades succeed in this sometimes difficult area. Last year, her students turned in some of the highest scores in the state on the Benchmark Exam. Colleagues and administrators of these two teachers pointed out that both of them give each student they teach specialized instruction. Individually, that undivided attention puts each student on the path toward achievement and self-confidence. Collectively, it prepares a future Arkansas workforce for intellectually demanding and satisfying careers.
Teaching is not just a job; it's a calling. Teachers incorporate their personalities and ideas into lessons to engage students in unique ways. Ms. Weimer and Ms. Diamond are two teachers among the many who are working in the trenches for the long-term benefit of our state. Simply put, Arkansas needs strong, dedicated teachers to produce independent, critical thinkers and a viable economy. Help me show our support for the teachers in our communities. Their work can make all the difference in the life of a child.