January 18, 2019  

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Pass Christian High Principal-USM Alum Wins Prestigious Milken Award

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Dr. Robyn Killebrew is Mississippi's only winner of the coveted Milken Educator Award.

There was a time when Pass Christian (Miss.) High School Principal and University of Southern Mississippi alum Dr. Robyn Killebrew tried running from education. Today, the popular and highly respected educator wholeheartedly embraces the concept.

For her tireless efforts as the fourth-year principal at Pass Christian, Killebrew recently was named a Milken Educator Award winner. Among the 44 Milken honorees for 2017-2018, Killebrew is the only one chosen from the State of Mississippi. The award comes with a $25,000 cash prize that the winner is free to use at his/her discretion.

When Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Jane Foley visited Pass Christian High earlier this month to announce that someone from the school had been selected for the honor, Killebrew had no inkling that she might be the recipient.

“I was completely shocked and definitely overwhelmed,” she said. “When Dr. Foley told the audience that someone from Pass High was going to receive the Milken Educator Award, I caught myself looking around at all the amazing teachers we have in our building. When she revealed my name, I was completely surprised.”

A Durant, Miss., native, Killebrew earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from William Carey University in 2003. She also holds a master’s in sports administration (2005) and a doctorate in educational leadership and administration (2016) from USM.

She played fast pitch softball for two years at William Carey, finishing her career with a .301 batting average. Following her time at WCU, Killebrew became the graduate assistant softball coach at USM. In 2004, she helped lead the Golden Eagles to a 2004 Conference USA Championship.

Killebrew worked as a teacher for five years at Pass Christian before serving as assistant principal for two years. She readily concedes that teaching is engrained in her DNA given the fact that her grandmother was a teacher and her mother is currently in her 43rd year of teaching.

“In college, I tried running from education; however, I always knew in my heart that I wanted to be a teacher,” said Killebrew. “It was just in my blood. I personally witnessed all the lives my mother touched over the years. I wanted to be a part of that.”

Candidates for the Milken Educator Award are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Since taking over as principal Killebrew has created and implemented a number of programs designed to foster greater engagement between teachers, students and the community at large. Enhancing academic achievement remains a top priority and her philosophy as a principal is simple: “Whatever it takes.”

One of her unique programs is the Freshman Academy, specifically designed to help smooth the transition from middle school to ninth grade. Killebrew meets with the incoming freshmen herself, encouraging them to become part of the Pass Christian family by joining an athletic team, club or academic organization during their high school years.

Since the program launched, Pass Christian’s graduation rate has risen to more than 90 percent. Killebrew also created an ACT “boot camp” to prepare students for the standardized college test; she knows many Pass Christian families depend on college scholarships and reminds students that ACT points equal “college dollars.” Scores on every area of the test, and the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in all four testing areas has risen from 17 percent to 27 percent.

Each month she invites community members in for “Pastries with the Principal” to share what’s happening at PCHS and how students are doing. Killebrew has been known to show up at the home of at-risk students to convince them to stick it out until graduation and serves on the district superintendent’s Key Leadership team.

With another busy school year at hand, Killebrew has given little thought to how she might spend her surprise windfall.

“I have not made any plans of yet,” she said. “I love to travel, so maybe a few trips in the near future.”