Mililani Educator Wins Milken Award

It was a secret worth keeping.

The students and faculty of Mililani Uka Elementary gathered Feb. 23 for an assembly. One of their own was getting an award, but no one knew who or what kind, not even kindergarten teacher Jana Fukada — this year’s Milken Educator Award winner.


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Students and faculty at Mililani Uka Elementary spell out the cash prize won Feb. 23 by Milken Award-winning teacher Jana Fukada. Photo courtesy state Department of Education.

Her mouth was frozen into a smile and a few tears watered the collection of lei around her neck as she accepted the “Oscar of Teaching” and the $25,000 check that comes with it.

“This award may come as a surprise to Ms. Fukada; however, it’s no surprise that she is deserving of it,” said Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui at the ceremony.

“Jana is always willing to take on a challenge,” added principal Heather Wilhelm, “if it will benefit her students and her school. Parents express that she is a ‘gem’ and that they are so grateful Jana was their child’s teacher.”

Fukada co-taught an inclusion class and developed plans and assessments for Hawaii Common Core Standards. She also created homework activities to support students (and their parents) in the development of their reading and math skills.

Her effort has paid off. Recent data from her class showed 70 percent of students were at or near grade level in English, 93 percent were proficient in math, 94 percent were proficient in science and 100 percent met social studies goals.

This year, Fukada became curriculum coach for grades K-2 and is the only teacher selected to serve on the state’s Student Information Systems Evaluation Committee. She even took her skills on the road, visiting other islands to help train teachers on math curriculum.

Fukada currently is working on earning her doctorate from University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. Her focus is on the Korean education system.

“Jana’s passion for teaching and continuous drive to refine her lessons to better serve all students create an engaging classroom environment for learning,” said DOE deputy schools superintendent Ronn Nozoe.

“Her commitment to grow as an educator and share her expertise with her peers has immensely benefited students and Hawaii’s public school system.”

Milken Educator Awards began in 1987 to attract, retain and motivate outstanding teachers. Since its inception, 72 Hawaii educators have received the awards, totaling $1.8 million in grants.

In keeping with the secret ceremony, candidates are recommended confidentially by each state’s departments of education for the honor.