SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- South Sioux City Middle School teacher Jon Pickinpaugh thought he was going to an assembly Thursday morning to hear school officials laud students' rising test scores.

Instead, in a surprise, Pickinpaugh received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award in front of an enthusiastic crowd of students, administrators and fellow teachers.nd handshakes and a wave of applause and students standing and yelling.

Pickinpaugh, 34, is one of just 44 Milken Educator Award winners for the 2017-18 academic year and the only honoree from Nebraska. The annual awards are widely known as the "Oscars of Teaching."

"We don't accept nominations. You don't find us, we find you," Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Administrator Greg Gallagher said.

Pickinpaugh has taught for eight years at South Sioux City, where he is currently an eighth grade science teacher and coach.

"(Pickinpaugh) is just an outstanding leader in our building... He builds relationships with kids," Middle School Principal Tom McGuire said.

A native of Wayne, Pickinpaugh is nearing completion of his third degree from Wayne State College. He achieved the first, an undergraduate degree in business administration, in 2005.

After a few years, Pickinpaugh found he wanted to make more of an impact in the lives of young people, so he veered to a second career that matched that of his mother, who is a longtime teacher.

Pickinpaugh received a teaching degree from Wayne State in 2010 beford heading to South Sioux City.

The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987, recognizes teaching excellence publicly not only to inspire educators, but students and entire communities about the importance of joining the teaching profession.

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