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Taylor Trost ’23 MA

Taylor Trost ’23 MA, a 2023 Milken Educator Award recipient, is making her mark at Grace Norton Rogers Elementary School. Her ingenuity and dedication are helping to transform education in New Jersey’s East Windsor Regional School District.

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For Taylor Trost ’23 MA, 2023 was full of surprises. The first – and biggest – was the arrival of twin boys. Even less expected, however, was receiving the Milken Educator Award, a prestigious national honor recognizing outstanding educators. The fourth grade teacher at Grace Norton Rogers Elementary School in Hightstown is the first-ever Milken award winner in New Jersey’s East Windsor Regional School District.

The Milken Educator Award acknowledges the heroes in our K-12 classrooms. Candidates are not aware that they have been nominated and are under review. Those selected are surprised with an announcement made at an all-school event. The honor comes with an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000.

Because of the program’s secrecy, Trost didn’t understand why her principal was so adamant that she attend the October school assembly. 

“It didn’t make sense,” she recalls. “I was on maternity leave and wondered what could be so important, but the invitation was pretty firm. I figured I had better show up and thought it would be a nice opportunity to see my co-workers. It turned out to be the surprise of a lifetime!”

Trost’s accomplishments in and outside the classroom were honored that day, from her effective use of project-based learning, music, and physical activities to keep her fourth-grade inclusion class on track to her mentorship of new teachers. The assembly that cheered her on included the school’s student body, faculty and administrators, as well as prior Milken awardees. 

“I loved meeting the previous Milken recipients,” she says. “They were generous with their encouragement and guidance. It is an amazing feeling to know that there are people you don’t even know yet who care about your success.”

It is little wonder that Trost’s abilities and potential caught the attention of the Milken Family Foundation and the award committee. Since completing her undergraduate work at Rowan University, Trost has been on a fast track to leadership, stepping into the lead teacher role in her second year in the profession. When she began thinking about the next steps on her career path, she looked to her school’s administrators for guidance. “My principal recommended Montclair’s master’s program in educational leadership,” she says, “and I trusted her advice. I liked that the program was fully online.”

“I really appreciated the structure of the program,” Trost continues. “It was rigorous but flexible. The cohort approach created a support system, making it a more social experience than I had expected. We still have group chats to share ideas and opportunities.”

The graduate level coursework prepared Trost to translate her classroom creativity – which included innovations such as a pretend campfire circle to nurture her student’s storytelling abilities – into larger initiatives.

“I learned so much about the educational landscape as a whole,” she explains. “It was a lens that I didn’t have before. We explored equity in schools, leadership schools, and what goes on behind the scenes in a school or district, from logistical aspects to legal ramifications and state mandates. I learned about the experiences of teachers in other communities and grade levels.”

Now, when Trost sees an opportunity or wants to develop a new idea, she is better able to move forward. “I have the tools to make more of an impact,” she says.

Trost will be on leave for a bit longer, but she is looking forward getting back to her students and to the initiatives she was working on at the end of the 2022-23 academic year. “I was updating curriculum documents and advancing new initiatives for teaching math, science and literacy,” she says. “My focus was on aligning what we teach to new philosophies being embraced by the district and integrating the updated material into the classrooms. When I return, I will be helping fellow teachers develop their practice. We will be working together to reach for a new vision for the education we provide.”

Although her hands are quite full at the moment, Trost hopes that in the future she will be able to get more involved with Montclair alumni activities. “I think it is important to give back to the programs that helped you progress,” she points out. “I would like to support the next generation of education professionals, perhaps through a principalship mentoring program.”

In the meantime, she keeps up with Montclair news through the alumni emails she receives. “I learned recently about the new Certificate in General Education Studies program for students who have intellectual disabilities,” she notes. “It makes me proud to know that I graduated from a school that is actively pursuing inclusiveness in education.”