Math, this time it's personal: Innovative teacher Carla Diede earns a $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Transforming curriculum and student futures at South Dakota's Harrisburg South Middle School


SANTA MONICA, Calif., (January 4, 2018)—Students literally flip for Carla Diede's math classes. That's because in her "flipped classroom," students see their lessons online before they show up to class—where they then engage in more active learning. It's just one of several educational innovations Diede is implementing at South Dakota's Harrisburg South Middle School where student achievement is growing by leaps and bounds.


But it was Diede herself who was jumping for joy this morning at an all-school assembly where she was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Don Kirkegaard, South Dakota Secretary of Education and Greg Gallagher, Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Administrator. The national recognition comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Diede is the only Milken Educator Award winner from South Dakota this year, and is among 44 honorees for 2017-18.


The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the “Oscars of Teaching,” has been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America’s next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, “The future belongs to the educated.”


Diede is a classroom innovator, prompting her Harrisburg colleagues to often sit in to observe her cutting-edge methods, along with teachers from across the school district. She has also shared her rigorous insights, novel learning structures and systems with educators statewide as well as in neighboring Minnesota. Thanks to her innovative data-driven personalized instruction plans, student learning is enhanced by high-expectations as well as by directed study, with the result being fully engaged staff and enthusiastic students


“Carla Diede, like all Milken Educators, understands that the path to higher learning is an intensely personal one, and that students must find their way to the truth individually," said Gallagher. "Making math attainable to all, each in their own way, is how she excels—by helping her students learn in idiosyncratic and idiomatic ways. Central to her teaching genius is helping students not only to learn new things, but also to learn them in new ways."


“The Harrisburg School District has been a leader in the personalized learning approach, and it takes great teachers like Carla Diede to make that happen,” said Kirkegaard. “Carla epitomizes what it means to personalize instruction for, and make strong connections with, students.”


“Carla just does whatever it takes,” said Harrisburg South Middle School Principal Darren Ellwein. “I’ve worked with her for a number of years, and she has always gone above and beyond for students. She’s passionate about her subject matter and finding the most effective ways to use technology to enhance instruction. She is integral in our personalized learning track for our school and district. She leads professional development and supports all our teachers. I’m thrilled to see her recognized with this award.”


About Milken Educator Carla Diede

Carla Diede is a pioneer, leading her school, district and state forward in adopting transformational and cutting-edge strategies focused on personalized, student-centered instruction: first as a teacher employing the flipped classroom concept (delivering instruction online to view before class, so students can learn through activity during class), and more recently, with personalized learning (addressing distinct learning needs of individual students).


In her afternoon math courses, Diede creates an optimal environment through interactive, hands-on activities that guide the learning process for students, ranging from 8th grade math to 7th/8th grade algebra and geometry. She models how best to differentiate instruction for all learners, facilitating understanding of mathematic concepts and critical thinking. Adequately preparing her classes for secondary-level math studies and proficiency exams, Diede is a task master whose students rise to her high standards, regularly seeing significant gains on the MAP assessment. 


Diede spends her mornings as a personalized learning coach working with 6th and 7th grade students and their teachers in creating customized, individual learning plans. She coordinates lesson plans with teachers and tracks student learning, modifying school curriculum when needed to address gaps based on her analysis of student data. She helps teachers set self-paced schedules for these learners and pulls students into one-on-one settings or small groups for additional support. She also helps students who are behind on their work and those struggling to meet the standards set forth in the school’s standards-based grading model. In addition, she meets with educators from other schools when they come to observe the personalized learning program, and she has presented about the program and educational technology at teacher in-services and various state and regional conferences. 


Diede also serves as a major resource for parents. Understanding where the kids are and giving them what they need to advance, Diede leads the transition for fifth-grade learners and meets with parents so they understand their options of personalized learning versus the traditional middle school setting.


Diede earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics with an Education Specialization from South Dakota State University in 2007, and her Master of Science in Education from Southwest Minnesota State University in 2011. In 2017, she earned National Board Certification.