Mike Sinclair Wins the Oscar of Education: The Milken Award, $25,000

MCNC proudly celebrates the recognition of principal, Mike Sinclair of Brashier Middle College Charter High School as a 2013 Milken Educator.  No one in our organization was surprised when the announcement came over the wires, but Mike, who thought his Friday afternoon was to be spent escorting the Superintendent and SC educators around his campus was caught completely off guard.  He did not have an inkling. He was told the state Supt was looking to showcase SC Schools. “We are involved with some important state programs so I thought it  made sense. I made sure local officials would be there with all the students. I spent weeks frantically preparing for the visit.
This was the first year that the school was in the TAPP system so I thought we were getting an award for the school. When Gary said, ‘A person….’ I started to get anxious.”

In making the announcement before SC educators, the faculty and student body of Brashier, Dr. Mick Zais, Superintendent of Education of South Carolina said:
“Teaching is a calling not a job. . .Coming from a family of educators, I know that these types of recognitions do not come often enough. . . Teachers can have the single most important impact on a child.  Kristi Grooms [Dutch Fork, SC honoree] and Mike Sinclair represent all that great teachers can be and the heights they can achieve. They have shown real leadership in their schools and fully deserve this prestigious award.”

After the Superintendent and Dr. Gregory Stark, National Institute For Excellence in Teaching President and CEO made their remarks, Sinclair stated, “My philosophy of education is that students all have tremendous potential and they develop at different times or in different ways, so as an educational system we need to be flexible and focus on meeting the needs of our students rather than meeting the needs of a system. Students just have tremendous potential that unfortunately can go untapped if someone doesn’t take time to look at it.”
Sinclair graduated from the University of SC and received a Masters Degree in Administration from Furman University. After teaching at J.L. Mann Academy of Math, Science and Technology and Beck Academy of International Studies he served as AP at the latter. A 4year tenure as principal at Berea Middle School in Greenville, SC led to the offer to open Brashier Charter MCHS, the second early college charter high school affiliated with Greenville Technical Community College. In looking back on the past decade, Sinclair remembers his early days as a principal. “I started the principalship at thirty years old, fresh out of graduate school. I went to school with veteran staff. I was told they needed time to adjust. I was so young, my suit was even too big for me.” Today, Mike serves on a variety of statewide committees and associations including  the SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) Review Team for the state of South Carolina.
Sinclair was instrumental in the planning and building of Brashier Middle College, a charter school that opened with 100 students in 2006 and has grown to 420 in 2013. Brashier proudly boasts a graduation rate of 98.3 percent and enrolled 77.7 percent of its upperclassmen in college classes in 2012. These students accumulated nearly 2,000 college credit hours along with completion of high school requirements. 2012 graduates received a total of $2.2 million in college scholarships.

Over the last eight years at Brashier, Sinclair’s leadership  has been guided by and stayed true to his vision. A believer in life long learning and the importance of all members of the learning community to experience growth, he is proud that teachers at Brashier receive ongoing professional development and are expected to stay abreast of successful research based instructional practices.  Always an educational driver and not a follower, he has worked with MCNC to spearhead school wide literacy before the Common Core, on line communities of practice before MOOCs, Peer Support and Review before Danielson’s Framework, and Dave Conley’s EPIC assessment for college readiness in high school. He implemented TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement, where master and mentor teachers model research-based instructional practices
All students at the school are encouraged to take, and supported in, college classes, and struggling students are identified early and enrolled in a Freshman Academy that helps them upgrade their skills and prevents dropping out, which can be endemic in the 9th grade. Combining high school and college skills and social emotional maturity is a complex task. Sinclair and his staff address these complexities with attempts to strengthen students’ communication and leadership skills, by creating portfolios and requiring student presentations to adults as early as freshman year. He has also tried to build strong connections with community partners in order “to try to connect our students to a world that’s bigger than just Simpsonville, South Carolina,” he said.

Colleagues describe Sinclair as an encyclopedia of best practices who stays abreast of legislation, literature and statistics, using data to formulate results-oriented strategies.
He guided creation of a charter school bill that brought a funding increase. He is also credited for improving relationships between public and charter schools.
Mike is a fixture and welcome presenter at MCNC Conferences. Often he shuns the personal praise and recognition for his school’s accomplishments, placing his faculty in the forefront for the hard work and dedication they have demonstrated. Each initiative resulted in growth for the faculty and, even more, success for his students as the data shows.

The education award comes with a $25,000 prize that Sinclair may use however he wishes. He is the second MCNC educator to receive this award. In 2007, Sakhalin Finnie, chemistry teacher at Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy was surprised by the honor.  Selection of Milken recipients alternates each year between elementary and secondary educators. Educators are recommended for the honor by a blue-ribbon panel appointed by state education departments and based on exceptional educational talent as shown by effective instructional practices and student learning results, exemplary educational accomplishments beyond the classroom and contributions to education that are largely unheralded but worthy of the spotlight. Winners are in their early- to mid-career with long-range potential for professional and policy leadership.
Recipients join the Milken Educator Network, a coalition of top educators who have access to a variety of expert resources to help cultivate and expand innovative programs in their classrooms, schools and districts.

Mike spoke of the impact the award has and may engender in his future. “Everyone I run into who is a Milken, I have such respect for. These are the educators who do it to serve students. It’s great to be a part of something connected to a national community. . .I feel I have work [ahead of me]. I can influence people in the educational community from my office. I believe there will be a lot more opportunities over the next 24 months. I believe I’m called to do something.”

Mike Sinclair is often heard saying, “I accept this honor with pride, but I accept it because of what my students and teachers do.” And that’s another reason why this award is so fitting and justified.

And if all that isn’t enough, Mike says, disbelievingly, “My father tweeted about me.”