Ken Kakesako named a Milken Teacher of Promise


The Stevenson Middle School science educator earned the prestigious award from the National Milken Educators of Hawaii. He has launched after-school STEM and wrestling programs, raised money to support them, and "exemplifies aloha."

Teaching is not Ken Kakesako’s first career, but he’s making quite an impression in it. Today, in his third year of teaching science at Stevenson Middle School, he was awarded the prestigious Teacher of Promise Award from the National Milken Educators of Hawaii. 

The award annually recognizes a teacher who demonstrates excellence in the field and the highest qualities of a professional educator during their first six semesters in the classroom. Kakesako was surprised with the award today during a school staff meeting. 

“The award is really just a reflection of the amazing teachers we have here at Stevenson,” he said. “I’m honored to be included with them.” 

“When one teacher at a school is honored, all teachers are honored,” said Ruth Silberstein, complex area superintendent, Kaimuki-McKinley-Roosevelt.

In addition to teaching science, Kakesako founded the school’s Wrestling League, which provides students an opportunity to participate in competitive athletics after school. He partnered with McKinley High School students to create the ROOTS (Responsible Open-Minded Operations Through Science) at Stevenson, a STEM-based club focused on fostering student leadership skills through project-based learning. He has helped raise thousands of dollars to support these after school efforts. Born and raised in Manoa, he’s a graduate of ‘Iolani School and Harvard University.

“Ken promotes growth mindset and self-efficacy and continuously reflects on his practice. He establishes trust and creates structures that promote a culture conducive to 21st century teaching and learning,” said Principal Linell Dilwith. “He has an infectious smile and is caring, kind, holds high expectations for himself and students, and exemplifies aloha.”

Noelani Elementary teacher Katherine Nakamura, who has two children at Stevenson Middle, said, “To build students’ sense of community, he collaborated with teachers from other schools to set up friendly wrestling tournaments. Incorporating STEM practices and student reflection, he allows students to analyze their own learning.”

“As a parent and a public school teacher, I thank you,” she said.

Kakesako cited the mentorship of fellow educator Julia Segawa, a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) recipient, as being instrumental in helping him learn and grow into the profession.

Established in 2007, the Milken Educator of Promise award alternates annually between elementary and secondary teachers. Teachers of Excellence are selected in each of the 15 Complex Areas and are awarded $250, and a statewide honoree is selected among them for a $1,000 prize. The program is supported by the Hawaii USA Federal Credit Union.


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