Jamestown High School Principal Adam Gehlhar received one of education’s highest honors on Tuesday, the Milken Educator Award.

The award came as a surprise during a student assembly with Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. She credited Gehlhar’s energy, vision and an innovative approach to reaching students with 21st century learning.

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Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards of the Milken Family Foundation in Los Angeles, said Gehlhar is the only North Dakota recipient this year. The award includes a $25,000 prize and is presented annually to around 45 teachers nationwide, she said.

“The award goes to people who have very specific qualities,” Foley said.

At both JHS and a West Fargo high schools Gehlhar introduced project-based learning, along with integrating science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) into school curriculum, and developing collaborative internships in business and industry, she said. Gehlhar is also a role model who sets an example for young people and colleagues to follow, she said.

“It’s not a lifetime achievement award,” Foley said. “When you look at that face you know that he has decades ahead of him to be a leader and to make an influence.”

Gehlhar was not nominated for the award, Foley said. He was identified for his leadership and creating big school opportunities for students of smaller school districts, she said.

Gehlhar said the award was definitely a shock and that he was honored, humbled and grateful. He credited staff, faculty and students for stepping up and doing great things every day.

“It makes it really easy to lead when other people will lead if you just give them the power to do that,” Gehlhar said.

Recognizing past achievement is good, but there is also a need to continuously improve, he said.

“Working towards a vision of a better future is really what keeps me motivated,” Gehlhar said.

Seven former Milken Awardees from North Dakota attended the presentation Tuesday including 2006 recipient Lynnette Patrick, a teacher at Louis L'Amour Elementary School. Former JHS Principal Larry Ukestad, a 1997 recipient, recalled Gehlhar as a JHS student, a strong leader and the right person to lead the school as technology becomes the big step forward in education.

“Adam has taken that leadership role to the point where right now he deserves the award,” Ukestad said.

Roger Haut, president of the Jamestown Public School Board, said the award reaffirms the decision to hire Gehlhar two years ago.

“He is good through and through,” Haut said of Gehlhar. “I am proud of the leadership we have in our board, in our administration and just where we are taking the school system. We are always trying to do better.”

Diane Hanson, School Board member, said Gehlar is very well liked by staff and students.

“He’s got a connection there that is unique and I think it really pays off with his leadership ability,” Hanson said.

Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public School District, said Gehlhar has an ability to recognize the capacity for change and facilitating change in the right way.

“Mr. Gehlhar is very innovative, a great leader, a fantastic principal, a relationship builder and he leads a school of many other professionals that are doing a tremendous job every day,” Lech said