Press Releases


September 26, 2017

Mazel Tov to Los Angeles Recipients of $15,000 Jewish Educator Awards

Milken Family Foundation celebrates the teaching profession by honoring excellence in BJE-affiliated Jewish day schools

SANTA MONICA, Calif., (September 26, 2017) –Four exemplary Los Angeles Jewish day school educators got the jump on a sweet New Year when they were surprised before their entire school communities with the prestigious Jewish Educator Award (JEA)—and a $15,000 unrestricted financial prize. Those honored include:

  • Yehudis Blauner, General Studies principal, Cheder Menachem

  • Adrienne Coffield, Director of Academic Technology, Brawerman Elementary School

  • Melody Mansfield, English/creative writing teacher, Milken Community Schools; and

  • Jenny Zacuto, Language Arts teacher, Yavneh Academy

Caught off-guard by Milken Family Foundation Executive Vice President Richard Sandler and BJE: Builders of Jewish Education Executive Director Dr. Gil Graff during four unique whole-school assemblies, recipients responded with emotion as students and colleagues cheered their appreciation.

"What could be more essential to the Jewish future than ensuring that our youth achieve their academic potential, lead lives that contribute to improving our communities, and grow to embrace the joys and responsibilities of their Jewish heritage?" asked Sandler who has been involved with JEA since 1990 when the Milken Family Foundation presented the first Awards. "Outstanding Jewish day school educators are vital to this mission."

"When I heard my name announced, I felt overwhelmed—with surprise, with joy, with the sounds of the crowd, and with an immensity of gratitude that was more than I could hold," said Melody Mansfield. "I already have everything a human could ever want, so to hear that my work was being honored by the organization that had already given me so much nearly split me at the seams. Some years back, a rabbi friend at Milken shared with me a piece of Jewish wisdom: 'If you know the world will end tomorrow, plant a tree today.' I am most profoundly grateful to be part of a profession that allows me to plant trees (and sometimes even see them sprout!) every day of my life."

About the 2017 JEA Recipients

  • When an 8th grade student describes Yehudis Blauner by saying, “She continuously leads the students, faculty and Cheder to places that we would never aspire to on our own,” it is clear that the General Studies principal is making a lasting impression. Cheder Menachem is the only Chabad Chassidic elementary school on the West Coast and Blauner works hard to set high standards for all subjects, incorporating ongoing professional development, data-driven instruction to meet Cheder Torah and Chassidic goals as well as Common Core Standards for science, technology and the arts.

  • As Director of Academic Technology at Brawerman, Adrienne Coffield guides faculty and students in exploring both the past by utilizing technology to explore the immigrant experience on New York’s Lower East Side—and the future by designing an engineering space for budding robotics enthusiasts. Coffield’s influence as an educator extends far beyond her own campus; she played a lead role in the development of a consortium linking more than 300 technology teachers.

  • An accomplished author in her own right, Melody Mansfield is a passionate advocate for the arts and runs a Writer’s Workshop that has been compared with university-level programs. More than two dozen of her students are annually published in external literary magazines, and under her tutelage, Milken’s literary journal was recently awarded Superior for Excellence in Student Literary Magazines by the National Council of Teachers of English.

  • Jenny Zacuto is widely regarded as a master instructor at Yavneh Academy, where she instills a thirst for lifelong learning through her own example of insatiable curiosity and proactive professional development, which she willingly shares with colleagues. Zacuto is expert at differentiating instruction to reach every student’s individual learning style, while creating a classroom atmosphere that builds community and mutual respect as students pursue Jewish and secular studies.


These four educators will be celebrated, together with their families and community leaders, during an awards luncheon at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel on November 30, 2017. The event is known for its inclusiveness, bringing together people from the most secular to the most Orthodox in the Jewish community.

The Jewish Educator Awards initiative was established by the Milken Family Foundation, in cooperation with BJE: Builders of Jewish Education, to provide public recognition and unrestricted $15,000 cash awards to teachers, administrators and other education professionals in the Greater Los Angeles area who have made significant contributions to excellence in BJE-affiliated day schools.

Award recipients are selected by a committee of educators, professional and lay leaders from the Jewish community, according to the following criteria:

  • Exceptional educational talent and promise, as demonstrated by outstanding practices in the classroom, school and community.

  • Evidence of originality, dedication and capacity for leadership and self-direction.

  • Commitment to influencing policies that affect children, their families and schools.

  • Strong long-range potential for even greater contribution to children, the profession and society.

  • Distinguished achievement in developing innovative educational curricula, programs and/or teaching methods.

  • Outstanding ability to instill in students character and self-confidence.

  • Outstanding ability to develop Jewish children’s understanding of the connections between their religion, their classroom activities, and their activities beyond the classroom.

  • Commitment to professional development and excellence and the continuing Judaic and/or secular study necessary for it.

  • Personal involvement in responding to the needs of the Jewish and secular communities.

  • Criteria for administrators also include outstanding ability to attract, support and motivate committed education professionals.


CONTACT: Bonnie Somers, (310) 570-4770 or bsomers@mff.org