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HIDOE News Release: Ala Wai Elementary Teacher Receives Prestigious Milken Educator Award

Posted on Feb 5, 2019 in Latest Department News

For an online version of this release, please click here.

For photos and video, please click here.

HONOLULU – Sara King, a Title 1 Coordinator at Ala Wai Elementary has become the latest recipient of the coveted Milken Educator Award.  Regarded as the “Oscar Award of Teaching,” the award honors outstanding excellence in education and comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.  King is the only Hawaii Milken Educator in 2019, and is among 33 teachers nationwide selected for the honor this season.

King received the surprise award in a school-wide assembly in front of over 400 cheering students, teachers and staff members.  King’s commitment to public education and providing rich learning experiences for all students in addition to her leadership in developing school-wide systems to align teaching practices with strategies to support student learning impressed the Milken Family Foundation.

“Sara’s dedication to excellence in the classroom, empowers her students to be accomplished learners who utilize their voice, collaborate with one another, and develop solutions to real world problems,” said Superintendent Dr. Christina M. Kishimoto.  “Her tenacity in ensuring that her students are equipped with the skills to thrive in an information-dependent global society is tremendous and we congratulate and thank her for being such an inspiration for our students.”

As the Title I coordinator for Ala Wai Elementary School, King develops school-wide support systems that allow all students to thrive and reach their full potential. She works with her colleagues to achieve these goals with tiered support systems and enrichment programs.

Before taking over the Title I coordinator role in August 2017, King taught first grade and served as grade level leader.

“I always wanted to be a teacher ever since I was little, so it was never a question of what I wanted to major in,” said King.  Even as the school’s Title I coordinator, King still ensures that she spends time with students every day. “My favorite part of the day is working with my small groups of children.  In deciding to come out of the classroom, one of my things was that I want to still be with kids every single day.”

According to Principal Michelle DeBusca, King has been instrumental in shifting school culture at Ala Wai Elementary through her sharing of ideas and resources to promote student achievement and positive behaviors.  She collaborates frequently with colleagues to plan school events such as learning showcases, Leader in Me Parent Nights, Title 1 workshops, May Day, and small group literacy practices. King also helped to organize and coach the school’s first unified basketball and softball teams- an exciting opportunity for many students who never played organized sports before.

In the classroom, King made a paradigm shift from traditional teaching practices to facilitate student independence and critical thinking skills.  She is recognized as a student-centered teacher who believes in students’ innate curiosity to develop critical thinking. She often helps her students categorize, prioritize, and evaluate their own ideas to formulate defining questions to research and design project-based solutions.

Parents at Ala Wai Elementary have a deep appreciation for King for understanding what their child needs.  She communicates frequently with parents to provide specific strategies to build literacy skills and develop positive behaviors.

For the past three years, King has been rated as highly effective in her Educator Effectiveness System (EES) evaluation for her instructional strategies with distinguishing marks in the areas of establishing a culture for learning, managing student behavior, and engaging students in learning.  Her classroom data showed an increase in student literacy for all students on the Standardized Test for Assessment of Reading (STAR) assessment for first grade students and students’ standards-based grades also showed a 57% increase in proficiency in English Language Arts (ELA) reading performance.

“I’m glad that I have this network of people, a new Milken ohana that I can reach out to, to help better my practice and to become a better teacher to help others,” said King.

King is a graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2008.  She later earned a master of education in curriculum studies with an emphasis in multicultural education in 2012.

The Milken Educator Awards program, which was launched by the Milken Family Foundation (MFF) in 1987, has been described as “the Oscars of teaching” by Teacher magazine.   King is the 77th Hawaii teacher to receive the Milken Educator Award since Hawaii joined the program in 1990. The 77 Hawaii recipients have received awards along with a total of $1.9 million in prize monies.  For more information, photos and video, visit


About the Hawaii State Department of Education
The Hawaii State Department of Education is the ninth-largest U.S. school district and the only statewide educational system in the country. Established in 1840 by King Kamehameha III, today’s public school system serves more than 170,000 students across 256 schools and 36 charter schools. The Department is committed to ensuring all students have access to a high-quality education and can successfully discover and embark upon their chosen path in life.

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Krislyn Yano
Communications Specialist
Hawaii State Department of Education
Ph: (808) 586-3232
Email: [email protected]