Digital divide? What digital divide? Students at Georgia's Valdosta Early College Academy (VECA) are fully outfitted for the challenges of today and tomorrow thanks to Assistant Principal Dr. Johnnie Marshall. Every student at the grade 6-12 school gets a Mac tablet or laptop, and every teacher attends educational "Appy Hours" training to stay up to speed. VECA's Marshall offers a helping hand of high technology coupled with a gritty, down-to-earth sensibility. It's not just computers for everyone, but Marshall and staff create a challenging, nurturing environment where students can earn up to 60 college credits during their time at VECA. 

But it was Marshall who was enjoying an unexpected opportunity this morning during a surprise school assembly at his school located in Valdosta, Georgia. That's where Marshall was presented with a Milken Educator Award by Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley and Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods. Marshall was named a 2019-20 recipient of the national recognition, which comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. He is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Georgia this year, and is among up to 40 honorees for 2019-20. 

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching" has been opening minds and shaping futures for over 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.” 


Marshall is bringing that future to fruition for his students. By blending digital media with traditional classroom methods, this tech-savvy educator prepares students for rapid advances in technology with hands-on experience. VECA students jumpstart their college careers and everything beyond through a partnership established with nearby Valdosta State University. A caring educator who prioritizes STEM initiatives and positive behavior, Marshall keeps parents in the loop and staff engaged by promoting open communication and professional development. 

"Recognizing that the power of technology can only increase the potential of his students, Dr. Johnnie Marshall lights the way for both the faculty and his students," said Foley. "He understands the formula for success, and gives his students everything they need to make their higher education goals a reality."  

"Dr. Johnnie Marshall is a committed, supportive, and inspiring educator who builds relationships with his students, invests in their lives, and prepares them for a better future," said Woods. "He is eminently deserving of this honor and I'm grateful to the Milken Family Foundation for recognizing this outstanding Georgia educator."

"The Milken Educator Award is the most prestigious honor bestowed to those in our profession," said Superintendent of Valdosta City Schools (VCS) Dr. William "Todd" Cason. "The selection of one of our valued and outstanding VCS educators, Dr. Johnnie Marshall, as a 2019 Milken recipient is beyond exciting, not to mention we are extremely proud of his recognition. Dr. Marshall epitomizes professionalism, innovation, integrity and dedication to the education of our students in Valdosta City Schools and Valdosta Early College Academy, specifically.  We are excited about the unlimited possibilities in the field of public education Dr. Marshall will have as part of this achievement and look forward to supporting all his future endeavors." 

About Milken Educator Dr. Johnnie Marshall

Every student at Georgia's Valdosta Early College Academy (VECA) works with an iPad or MacBook from sixth grade to high school graduation, thanks to Assistant Principal Dr. Johnnie Marshall. He set up the 1:1 device initiative through a partnership with Valdosta State University (VSU) several years ago. Marshall stays on top of technology and application updates, trains students and teachers, organizes distribution of the devices, and leads a team of student techies to keep the devices charged, synced and updated. Teachers attend "Appy Hours," Marshall's professional learning sessions, to keep up to date on the latest educational applications. Because of the program's demonstrated improvement in student achievement, hundreds more iPads have been purchased for other schools in the district. Marshall helps seniors develop digital portfolios to showcase their high school experiences and post-secondary goals during college signing day celebrations. He also sponsors student-led digital media competitions during National Early College Week. In a school where sixth-graders arrive lagging their peers academically and with risk factors for high school graduation, seniors leave with at least one year of dual-enrollment college credit and scholarships to support their future studies. 

Marshall inspires and uplifts teachers as well as students. He serves as VECA's instructional leader, monitoring academic achievement and providing professional development to help teachers address any gaps. Marshall serves as the school's public relations coordinator and sits on the district's strategic planning committee as well as the dean's advisory board at VSU's College of Education and Human Services. An Apple Distinguished Educator, Marshall has trained teachers on using technology in the classroom at conferences worldwide. He was chosen to participate in the Governor's School Leadership Academy Aspiring Principals Program and teaches future educators at VSU. 

Inspiring, engaging and contagiously upbeat, Marshall lives VECA's core values of building relationships with students, parents and teachers. He knows every student by name and has an exceptional impact on the school's young men, encouraging, motivating and investing in them. As VECA's parent and family engagement coordinator, Marshall collaborates with the school to develop their Parent and Family Engagement Plan and oversees the Title I Parent Involvement Program. Special classes and training sessions familiarize parents with the technology that students use, sharing techniques that parents can employ at home to support their children's studies. In addition to coordinating VECA's STEM initiatives, science fair, robotics program and annual eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., Marshall serves as the school's Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) coach. A deeply caring educator committed to giving back to his community and following the example of those who invested in him, Marshall has provided food, clothing and shoes for students who lacked resources, and constant love and support for students with turbulent lives outside school. 

Marshall earned a bachelor's in middle grades education in 2010, a master's in middle grades education in 2013, and a doctorate in educational leadership in 2018, all from Valdosta State University.