From “Transforming Lives”

As principal of Ben Milam Elementary School in Bryan, Texas, Tracy Spies ’11 has a simple but powerful approach to motivating her students.

“Praise, praise, praise and model, model, model,” she says. “You must praise every little step they take to help them understand that learning is a journey.”

Tracy, who recently earned her doctorate in bilingual education, began teaching in Aldine ISD in 1997 as an elementary bilingual teacher. She became Milam’s assistant principal in 2004 and principal in 2006.

During the school’s first year as a member of TAP™: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, Tracy was instrumental in leading Milam to achieve a solid achievement growth score of “3” as compared to peers across Texas.

And in 2010, under Tracy’s leadership, Milam earned an achievement score of “5” — the highest value-added score possible — demonstrating the “far above average” results that Tracy expects of her students.

“Our kids are bright, creative and unique individuals. Many of them have had difficult experiences and do not believe in themselves,” she says. “Peeling back the layers to build their confidence and a ‘can do’ attitude has been a challenge, but we are getting there.”

And it’s not just her Milam family that recognizes her passion for school reform.

Tracy received a big surprise when she and the rest of Milam’s administrators, teachers and students gathered for a visit from Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was supposed to present on the importance of education. Instead, the governor honored Tracy with the 2010 Milken National Educator Award, which recognizes exemplary K-12 educators and emphasizes the connection between quality classroom instruction and student achievement.

“I just go to work every day to do what I hope is right for the kids. It is truly a team effort, and I work with incredible people that make Milam run,” says Tracy, who was one of 55 educators nationwide to be honored with the $25,000 award. “It has been an incredible journey, and I realize the magnitude of what we are accomplishing.”

Tracy says that a big reason for Milam’s recent successes in student achievement stem from the school’s supportive environment, where teachers take care of each other and treat the students as their own children.

“Our kids come from a variety of backgrounds, and our teachers do an amazing job uniting them into a tight group,” she adds.

In addition to the satisfaction she receives from seeing the individual achievement growth of her students, Tracy admits that her passion for creating a culture of success goes beyond the walls of Milam.

“I do what I do because it’s important,” she says. “School leaders are responsible for building a sense of urgency in our kids, community and nation that education must be a priority.”