OMAHA — Students call him Mr. Whiz.
But on Wednesday morning, Millard teacher Tom Whisinnand can go by another name: Mr. Best.
At a student assembly, the 1998 Norfolk High graduate was revealed as the first-ever winner of the National University System-Sanford Teacher Award.
The honor came with a $50,000 check.
David Andrews, president of the San Diego-based private National University, announced the honor during the assembly at Reagan Elementary School near 198th Avenue and I Street.
Whisinnand, 39, who teaches fourth grade at Reagan, has been teaching for 10 years. He graduated from Wayne State College and the University of Nebraska-Omaha and has a master’s degree in elementary education.
"I was thinking: This is unbelievable. What an honor," said Whisinnand, a son of Nancy Whisinnand of Norfolk and the late Marc Whisinnand.
The Sanford Teacher Award recognizes and rewards 51 of the nation's top inspiring teachers, one from each state and Washington, D.C.
But only one gets the $50,000 prize.
Whisinnand was chosen for his dedication to building healthy relationships and supportive learning environments that motivate students to achieve success beyond the classroom. The panel recognized Whisinnand as a leader in expanding social emotional learning in Nebraska schools, citing his ability to engage students through real-world experiences. For example, last year, Whisinnand inspired his fourth grade class to research and propose legislation to name a new state symbol.
According to National University, inspiring teachers are those who engage students, build their confidence, create an inclusive environment, motivate students to succeed and gives students a voice.
The award is named for philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, who is committed to supporting inspiring teaching through pre-K-12 programs that are being expanded nationally by the nonprofit National University System.
Thousands of teachers were nominated by students, parents, and their peers in the inaugural year of the award campaign. Recipients of the award are selected by a committee of educators based on an application process that includes nominations and information provided by each teacher to assess how closely they represent the characteristics of inspiring teaching.
The award presentation marked the official launch of the new annual awards.
Each of the 51 finalists from each state and Washington, D.C., previously received a $10,000 Sanford Teacher Award for demonstrating their commitment to creating inspirational and harmonious classrooms that support student development and achievement.