Two teachers awarded education 'Oscars'


Third grade teacher Masaru Uchino from Momilani Elementary and fourth grade teacher Kelly Sutcliffe from Jefferson Elementary became the latest recipients 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.

HONOLULU – It doesn't happen very often, but today a teacher from Momilani Elementary and another from Jefferson Elementary became the latest recipients 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. 

Third grade teacher Masaru Uchino was the first to be surprised just before 10:00 a.m. before a student assembly in the Momilani Elementary cafeteria.

Two hours later and 17 miles away, a similar scene of cheers and tears took place at Jefferson Elementary where fourth grade teacher Kelly Sutcliffe was shocked when she heard her name called.

Both teachers impressed the Milken Family Foundation with their classroom achievements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

"The excitement from today's events will be remembered by these schools not only because of the nature of this prestigious award, but also the impact that these teachers have made and continue to make on the lives of their students," stated Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. "Congratulations to both Mr. Uchino and Ms. Sutcliffe for their achievements and for being an inspiration to so many! Both are examples of how innovative lessons can spark a student's passion for STEM."

About the awardees:

Masaru Uchino has been teaching since 2007 when he adapted his real-world experience as a former engineer to create wonderful hands-on science experiments for his students at Momilani El.  His high teaching standards and motivational skills have helped Momilani third graders to score at least 25 points higher in math than average scores on Hawaii State Assessment exams each year.  Uchino also founded Momilani's "Fit Factory" in 2009 to help students and staff to stay active, healthy and physically fit.  The group of third and fourth graders trains regularly and participates in the Great Aloha Run, Hawaii 5210 "Let's Go!" Keiki Run, the Ford Island Bridge Run 10K, the Jamba Juice Banana Man Chase 5K and the Wahiawa Pineapple Run 10K.

Uchino has also created a science camp course around the four forces of flight and taught students to design and build boats powered by rubber bands.  He developed a unit where students design and engineer a light maze by applying the concepts of reflection, refraction, angles and area, creating a very enjoyable and memorable experiment for students.  The National Science Teachers Association has recommended the unit for inclusion in its Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) curriculum. 

Uchino is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine, where he earned a bachelor's degree in social studies, with a minor in educational studies in 2001.  He later earned a Master of Education in educational technology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2011.  He was named HIDOE's Leeward District Teacher of the Year in 2015.

Kelly Sutcliffe has used inventive and original means to teach Jefferson Elementary fourth graders to solve real-world problems.  To illustrate how humans might acclimate to climate change and rising temperatures, Sutcliffe asked students to design and build portable air-conditioning units using the Engineering Design Process.  Students developed four different solutions based on the same low-cost materials, such as foam coolers, PVC piping and ice cubes, and tested them to see which design was most effective.

Sutcliffe adapts her dynamic teaching style to meet students' personal interests to boost engagement using a variety of visuals, empirical learning tasks, group discussions and physical activity to make each lesson resonate.  Through data analysis, she works with each student to monitor their progress, determine strengths and address areas for growth, setting attainable monthly improvement goals.  She also works with parents as partners in each student's education, making them key factors that can enable even greater success.  Additionally, Sutcliffe mentors future teachers studying at the university level to help them prepare for their careers.

Sutcliffe is a graduate of the College of New Jersey, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary STEM education in 2005.  She later earned a Master of Education in math curriculum studies, magna cum laude, at the University of Hawaii in 2014.

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.   Uchino and Sutcliffe are the 74th and 75th Hawaii teachers to receive the Milken Educator Award since Hawaii joined the program in 1990.  They are the first multiple awardees in the same year since 2005.  The 75 Hawaii recipients have received awards along with a total of $1,875,000 in prize monies.  For more information, visit

Click here for more information from the Milken Educator Awards

Contact Information

Donalyn Dela Cruz

Phone: 808-586-3232



Ho‘oha‘aheo newsletter cover

The Department's primary publication featuring successes across our public schools.

View all Ho‘oha‘aheo Newsletters