Friday, March 8, 2019
  Awards and Recognitions, Alumni

By Victoria Brito

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MARCH 8, 2019 – Krystal Contreras, a fourth-grade teacher in San Benito and an alumna of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, has received Texas’ Milken Educator Award for the 2018-2019 academic year. She is the sole recipient in the state and first in the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District.

Contreras, a writing teacher at Dr. C.M. Cash Elementary, earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in communication studies in 2004 from UTRGV legacy institution UT Pan American.                 

She is one of 33 nationwide recipients of this award and was recognized Feb. 15 in a surprise assembly at her school organized in her honor. The recognition comes with a $25,000 cash prize.

“I was in shock at first,” Contreras said. “It is a huge honor to be chosen as the only teacher in Texas. I really don’t feel like I do anything special. It has always been my passion and something that I love to do. It is not a job to me. It has been a surprise and a whirlwind.”

A San Benito native, she has been a teacher for 15 years, and for the past three years has taught writing exclusively.

The Milken Educator Awards was created by the Milken Family Foundation to attract, retain and motivate outstanding talent to the teaching profession. The awards provide public recognition and individual rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education early in their careers.

Contreras said she has always known that being a teacher was her calling.

“Teaching is just something I have always wanted to do,” she said. “I remember being little and having my little brother act as my student, and I would have a classroom set up in my bedroom. I have had the privilege of having many great teachers when I was growing up, so I think that just instilled that this was what I wanted to do.”

Contreras credits her time at UTPA as a moving force in her ongoing professional success as an educator.

“The courses I took in the English department and in communication tie directly into the methods of writing that I am teaching now, and that has helped me tremendously,” she said.

“Just the other day I was going through a box from college I had kept and there were notes written of sentence structures. I was able to implement those examples today in class; it tied perfectly into the lesson I was giving,” she said.

All recipients of this recognition will participate in the Milken Educator Forum in New Orleans from March 21 to 24, where they will also give a demonstration on teaching methods to fellow awardees.

“I am excited because all the teachers are going to have a presentation about a technique they use in their class,” Contreras said. “I am excited to learn new approaches and bring them back to my school to share with the other teachers.”

Contreras will give a presentation for creating accountability in students in the classroom.

“I wish more teachers would get recognized the way I did,” she said. “Teachers are hardly ever recognized for their work, they are just recognized for test scores,” she said. “I have learned so much from the teachers that I work with here, and without them, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today.”


The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 31 years ago. For more than three decades, the foundation has devoted more than $138 million in funding to the Milken Educator Awards, including $68 million in individual awards to more than 2,700 recipients, in addition to powerful professional learning opportunities and networking with leading education stakeholders.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.