A St. Petersburg teacher was surprised with an award and a $25,000 prize during an all-school assembly Thursday.
Lukas Hefty, a science and math coordinator at Douglas Jamerson Jr. Elementary School, is Florida's only recipient of the national Milken Educator Awards. Its aim is to encourage early to mid-career education professionals.
Jane Foley, the group's Vice President, said Hefty was singled out for engaging young students in science, technology, engineering and math.
"He has amazing, innovative practices,” she said. “His students are achieving and making gains at exponential rates. He's a leader and we want to send the message to him that we value your work and we want you to be an educator for decades."
Jamerson Elementary is a STEM- focused magnet school. It was named the country’s top elementary STEM program at the Future of Education Technology Conference in 2016.
Hefty was caught off guard when his name was announced at a ceremony in the school’s cafeteria.
“I’m just a little bit in shock right now,” he said after receiving the award. “I really had no idea that this was going to happen so I'm thankful and I'm honored." He then joked that he was going to Disney World.
Hundreds of students cheered loudly as Hefty accepted his prize. In 2015, 81 percent of Jamerson students reached a Level 3 or higher on Florida's standardized science test. Level 4 is the highest achievement.