Kawānanakoa Middle School’s Jade Pham receives prestigious Milken Educator Award and $25,000 prize


Kawānanakoa Middle School teacher Jade Pham became the latest recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award. Regarded as the "Oscar Award of Teaching," the award recognizes exceptional teachers and comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.

HONOLULU – Kawānanakoa Middle School educator Jade Pham became the latest recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award on Monday. Regarded as the "Oscar Award of Teaching," the award recognizes exceptional teachers and comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.

Pham was presented the award by Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, Gov. Josh Green, M.D., Superintendent Keith Hayashi and other officials in a surprise school-wide assembly as students, teachers and staff members cheered her accomplishments. 

“Jade is an outstanding teacher who advocates for every student and works diligently to create high-quality learning opportunities for all grade levels at Kawānanakoa,” Superintendent Keith Hayashi said. “Her engagement with her fellow teachers has created processes to improve students’ academic and personal growth through data-driven problem solving and project-based learning. Her dedication to mentoring her colleagues and to improving student outcomes has elevated the entire school and we are truly grateful to have an exceptional educator like Jade on our team.”

Pham shared that she immigrated to Hawaiʻi with her family as a toddler and attended public schools throughout her educational journey — from Linapuni Elementary and Pālolo Elementary to Jarrett Middle and Kaimukī High School — while she grew up in public housing. 

She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Corban University in 2017, originally thinking she would go into the legal field. Upon returning home from college, she began teaching at her alma mater, where she discovered her passion for teaching and education. She went on to get her master’s degree in education from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in 2019 and began her career as a special education and general education teacher. 

“I do believe that I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for all of my teachers that believed in me growing up,” Pham said after receiving the award. “All and all it's the teachers that really mentored me from when I was in preschool all the way up till today.”

In 2021, Pham made the move to Kawānanakoa Middle and served as a special education and social studies teacher before assuming her current position as student services coordinator where she now provides direct support to all classrooms and works closely with teachers to ensure high-quality learning for all students. 

Pham received her National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification in February 2024 in recognition of meeting the highest standards for teaching, and was recently tapped by Kawānanakoa Middle Principal Ronnie Victor to serve as a temporarily assigned vice principal for the school, which has an enrollment of 595 students.

“What kept me here is the love I have for my students,” Pham said. “Ever since my first year, I’ve developed very impactful relationships — not just the impact that I’ve had on my kids but the impact that they’ve had on me, always helping me to have a humble perspective on life.”

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. 

“We are proud to recognize Jade Pham for her dedication to advancing student growth, mentoring teachers and forging strong relationships with parents and families,” Lowell Milken said. “Jade’s leadership early in her career is impressive and demonstrates her potential to positively impact the community and profession for years to come. We welcome Jade to the Milken Educator Network and thank her for making education her chosen career.”

Pham is the 81st 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 over $2 million in prize monies.


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