Educator in Hawaii Receives Prestigious National Award

WAHIAWA, Hawaii (KHON2) – National recognition for a local educator was presented to an assistant principal at Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School Tuesday, Jan. 31, in front of more than 600 students.

However, she wasn’t expecting it when she woke up.

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The Milken Educator Award recognizes commitment to excellence in education. It can go to teachers, specialists or principles – but they don’t know about it beforehand.

“You can’t apply, you can’t be nominated,” said Dr. Jane Foley, Senior Vice President of the Milken Family Foundation.

“It’s purposely going to people who didn’t apply because those educators weren’t looking for awards or recognition. We know the good work they do. We want to come here and say, ‘Thank you, we want you to stay in education and do this valuable work for decades to come.’”

dr Jane Foley, Vice President of the Milken Family Foundation

Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School Associate Principal Esther Kwon received the prestigious award, which comes with $25,000 to spend as she pleases.

She said the first thing she will buy is some basketballs for a fifth grade tournament.

“But then I think my husband and I are planning to go to Europe this summer once school is for a short break; Maybe after my first year here as deputy principal, this will turn into a nice vacation,” said Kwon.

Kwon came to Oahu from Virginia about 10 years ago through Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits members to spend two years teaching in low-income communities. She said her colleagues and Keiki made her stay.

“And I never left because I just loved everyone here. I’m constantly learning and growing and that’s why I choose to stay here,” said Kwon.

The Milken Family Foundation said there are three goals for the award. The first objective is to recognize the educator and motivate him to remain in his profession. The second goal is to give public recognition to the important impact of educators.

“And the third goal is to influence young people,” said Dr. Foley. “That’s why there were 600 students in the gym today. because we want to tell them how much we value educators. We want them to go home tonight and say, ‘I want to be an educator!’ Some of them will say, ‘I’m going to be a governess, just like Mrs. Kwon.’”

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Kwon joined an alumni network of more than 2,900 Milken Educators nationwide and became the 80th Hawaii Milken Educator. A total of 40 awards were presented for the 2022-2023 school year – Kwon was the sole representative from Hawaii.