San Benito CISD Teacher Earns $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Feb. 15, 2019

AUSTIN – Commissioner of Education Mike Morath today joined Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, at a surprise ceremony in the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District to present Krystal Contreras with the Milken Educator Award. The national award recognizes exemplary elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists who are furthering excellence in education. 

Contreras is a fourth-grade writing teacher at Dr. C.M. Cash Elementary School in San Benito, a community southeast of Harlingen. Contreras is the only Texas educator receiving the national award during the 2018-2019 school year.

In addition to the Milken Award, often referred to as the “Oscars of Teaching,” Contreras will receive a $25,000 cash prize in recognition of her efforts and outstanding performance.

“Krystal Contreras reflects the very best of the teaching profession in Texas,” said Commissioner Morath. “By holding her students to the very highest standards, her hard work and dedication benefits her students today while strengthening the Texas of tomorrow.”

From the 2016-2017 school year to the 2017-2018 school year, Contreras’s work with her students led to a five percent increase in the school’s fourth-graders who were successful on their end-of-year writing assessments, from 82 percent to 87 percent. Both years, the percentage was the highest in the district. Contreras played a key role in the increase by researching new writing strategies, attending professional development workshops and implementing writing boot camps in the cafeteria for her students.

Additionally, she constantly looks for new strategies to move her students forward and puts time into developing innovative and engaging lessons. Her classroom is organized and inviting, with students often working in small groups, crowded around laptops as they work on a lesson about using reference materials or vocabulary. Contreras goes to great lengths to help every student. She tutors after school and on Saturdays, making extra learning sessions fun by incorporating games like Jenga into her instruction. Contreras’s goal, she says, is to help students become independent problem-solvers in the real world.

Colleagues know Contreras is always willing to help with instructional strategies. Contreras has written curriculum and delivered professional development during the district’s “Teachers Teaching Teachers” conference. She has worked on vertical alignment teams and professional learning communities, the attendance committee and the Superintendent’s Advisory Council. A graduate of Cash and San Benito High School, Contreras is a fixture at after-school activities and events.

Contreras earned a bachelor’s degree in English and communications in 2004 from the University of Texas – Pan American.

“Krystal Contreras understands that writing is foundational to every skill we learn in school—from analyzing and critical thinking to problem-solving and communicating with others,” said Foley, herself a Milken Educator from Indiana’s 1994 class. “I commend Krystal for instilling lifelong lessons in her students, and look forward to her contributions to the National Milken Educator Network.”

Contreras now belongs to the Milken Educator Network of more than 2,700 K–12 teachers, principals and specialists from around the country. In Texas, 51 recipients have been presented with the Milken Educator Award since the program began here in 2000.

The Milken Family Foundation first presented the Milken Educator Awards in 1987. Since that time, it has become the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program and was dubbed the “Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher magazine. More than $138 million in funding, including over $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients’ careers.  

For photos and video of Contreras receiving her Milken Educator Award, visit

For information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit

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