Sunnyside High School teacher Katie McQuone is used to being behind the camera as head of the school’s Video Production Academy. So McQuone was startled Tuesday morning to find cameras suddenly pointing at her during an assembly in the packed school gymnasium, where she was named winner of a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for 2019-20.
McQuone, a Sunnyside alum, is one of about 40 winners this year of what is called “the Oscars of teaching.”
She danced in joy after leaving her bleacher seat to accept the award as loud cheers of celebration rang out through the gym. But when it was time to make a speech, she was somewhat at a loss for words, other than to express her thanks.
And how does she plan to use her award money? “Pay off my student loans, yay!” she told reporters with a laugh, adding that she might also use it for a vacation or even Christmas presents.
First A Proposal, Now An Award
It wasn’t the first time she’d been ambushed in her old high school gym with a surprise announcement, McQuone said. “The last time I was in the gym like this, I got proposed to. There were cameras there for that, and I was sitting in the same spot. …”
Winning the award at her alma mater is especially thrilling, McQuone said. “It’s really exciting to come here, and now work here with the kids, and show them you can be from southeast Fresno and love your job, and enjoy what you do, and have fun — and win awards!”
School and district staff needed to keep McQuone’s award a secret until it was announced, so they told students and teachers that the assembly would recognize the school’s educational gains.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson and Cindy Quiralte, policy advisor to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, helped kick off the assembly by praising Sunnyside for increasing its graduation rate from 84% to 94% and for having one of the Valley’s fastest-growing rates of students completing the coursework necessary for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.
Jane Foley, Milken Educator Awards senior vice president, talked about the impacts that the best teachers have on their communities, and then acknowledged that she was at Sunnyside to give recognition to one of those teachers.
“Katie is a practical visionary who inspires and uplifts while also teaching down-to-earth skills that translate to both academia and the working world,” Foley said.
She Came Home to Teach
McQuone graduated in 2009 from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in radio, television, and electronic media. At Sunnyside, she has taken on many tasks, in addition to leading the Video Production Academy where nearly 100 students learn digital and social media skills and produce daily video news stories for the school’s broadcast.
She sits on the school’s arts and CTE committees, coaches the varsity swim team, and heads the school’s staff and alumni associations, organizing fundraising and appreciation events.
McQuone leads professional development for teachers and teaches evening video production classes as an adjunct instructor at Fresno City College.
Joining An Elite Class of Educators
Milken Educators are typically in early- to mid-career and are selected for what they have already achieved, and the promise of future accomplishments.
In addition to the $25,000 prize, winners become members of the National Milken Educator Network, will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis next March, and will be paired with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to prepare for expanded leadership roles.
The Milken Educators Awards were created by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987 to recognize teaching excellence and promote the teaching profession.
Video Production At Work
McQuone makes sure her students get hands-on experience: They record theater performances at local elementary schools, shoot video for the Fresno Grizzlies, and work with the Fresno Chaffee Zoo and FAX bus service.
Their stories are featured on a local network affiliate and public television. When they graduate, they all have work-based learning experiences, dual enrollment college credits and often are certified in programs such as Adobe Photoshop.
McQuone’s video production students waited after the assembly to hug their teacher. Seniors Eva Remme and Vionda Ayala said they weren’t completely surprised by her Milken award.
“I was a little surprised, but also I wasn’t, because she definitely deserves it,” Eva said. “She is an amazing teacher.”
McQuone’s impact on students goes beyond teaching video production skills, Vionda said. “I learned how to be a better person, I’ve gone through ups and downs. She’s taught me so much, how life is going to work, what kinds of people are the right kinds of people for myself.”
Vionda said she hopes to major in journalism at Fresno State and is thankful to her teacher for showing her that career path.
“If it wasn’t for McQuone, I never would have thought I would be good for journalism, but she definitely showed me that this is definitely where I should go.”