SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, WAHIAWA – At a school assembly in front of cheering students, teachers, and staff members, Esther Kwon, assistant principal at Daniel K. Inouye 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. Kwon was presented the award by Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice-president of the Milken Family Foundation, Lt. Governor Sylvia Luke and Superintendent Keith Hayashi. Kwon is the sole Milken Educator Award winner from Hawai‘i this year.
“Esther is an outstanding innovator who continually finds new ways to motivate students to incorporate their passions and interests into their work to keep them inspired and engaged,” Superintendent Keith Hayashi said. “As a Hawaiʻi State Teacher Fellow, Esther mentors her fellow teachers and guides them through their professional development journeys, helping to improve student outcomes across the board. We are very grateful to have such an exceptional educator and congratulate her on this well-deserved award.”
Kwon has taught and led various programs during her 10 years of service at Daniel K. Inouye Elementary, including teaching fifth grade, Gifted and Talented Enrichment, after-school tutoring, and Korean language; mentoring new teachers; advising the Student Council; serving on the School Community Council; and leading the Pineapple Academy distance learning program for 12 elementary schools in the Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua Complex Area. As a Hawaiʻi State Teacher Fellow, she has published articles on project-based learning and increasing student engagement, and led discussion on education policy with teachers, legislators and community members.
Growing up, Kwon attended 10 different schools in three countries – Korea, Canada and the U.S. This first-hand experience reinforced the importance of belonging in her students’ academic success and their social-emotional well-being. Daniel K. Inouye Elementary, which is located on the U.S. Army’s Schofield Barracks installation, has a student population almost entirely composed of military dependents. Kwon helps them to overcome challenges associated with frequent family relocations that are a part of military service and stay focused on academic success.
Kwon earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in elementary education from Johns Hopkins University. She originally moved to Hawaiʻi as a Teach For America member.
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. Kwon is the 80th 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 $2 million in prize monies.