HONOLULU – Michelle Le Iwasaki, an academic coach at Kalihi Kai Elementary School has become the latest recipient of the prestigious 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. Iwasaki is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Hawai‘i this year and is among 60 nationwide honorees for 2021-22.
Iwasaki received the surprise award at an outdoor assembly in front of cheering students, teachers, staff members and community leaders. Joining Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi in presenting the award were Gov. David Ige, First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige, and past Milken award recipients.
“Michelle is a shining example among our many teachers who inspire our students to achieve new heights by giving them vibrant new perspectives and the motivation to succeed,” Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi says. “Her work not only improves student outcomes but also advances teacher development for her colleagues around her and at other schools and we congratulate her on this well-deserved award and recognition.”
As the academic coach for kindergarten, first and fifth grades, Iwasaki develops long-term solutions to support and serve students. When the school partnered with Turnaround Arts in 2015, Iwasaki led the process of adding the program’s arts integration strategies into Kalihi Kai’s curriculum. The program had a profound impact helping to improve student outcomes in Language Arts, Math and Science performance prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Iwasaki also trains and mentors Kalihi Kai’s teachers in art integration strategies, conducts professional development, and leads visitations and presentations to other schools.
As a former classroom teacher who now mentors and trains educators, Iwasaki believes in building the capacity of others in the profession by broadening their understanding and strengthening their practice. She trains colleagues in the use of Guided Language Acquisition Design strategies for English language learners. Iwasaki developed a schoolwide Response to Intervention-Academic (RTI-A) system with diagnostic assessments, progress monitoring and evidence-based interventions. She conducts bimonthly classroom observations for her grade levels, shares data with teachers to help them elevate their instructional practice, and prepares new teachers for walk-throughs and observations. Iwasaki has presented at ECET2, a teacher-led community focused on teacher leadership and collaboration, as well as conferences like Read to Me and School of the Future.
A National Board Certified Teacher, Iwasaki empowers teachers to hold high expectations while helping students feel valued and achieve at their maximum potential. She worked toward building leadership and developing pacing guides for each grade level geared toward a focused learning target, instructional strategies, assessment, intervention and enrichment. Iwasaki seeks out community resources like the University of Hawaii’s Sound Partners, an evidence-based early reading intervention, to help close the achievement gap at Kalihi. She serves on the school’s academic review, arts leadership and literacy grant teams, and shepherded Kalihi Kai Elementary through its WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation process in 2018-19.
Iwasaki earned a bachelor’s in English in 2003 and a master’s in education in 2004 from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The Milken Educator Awards program, which was launched by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987, has been described as "the Oscars of Teaching" by Teacher magazine. Iwasaki is the 79th Hawai‘i teacher to receive the award since Hawai‘i joined the program in 1990. Hawai‘i recipients have received awards along with a total of $1.9 million in prize monies.