Teacher surprised with $25K educator award

Michelle Kay, a Kalakaua Middle science teacher, was surprised Monday as Hawaii’s latest recipient of the prestigious Milken Educator Award. The national award recognizes outstanding excellence in education and includes a $25,000 cash prize.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie made the announcement to an unsuspecting Kay before more than 1,000 students gathered at an assembly celebrating achievement gains at Kalakaua Middle.

“Our school, students and families are extremely fortunate to have a teacher as dedicated and passionate as Michelle,” said Kalakaua Middle Principal Lorelei Aiwohi. “Her commitment to touching the hearts of students and supporting them in their learning is infectious. Michelle has brought immense promise to the students who have the opportunity to be in her world.”

Kay, who teaches eighth grade, has been instrumental in building interest and participation in science programs such as fairs, robotics and aquaponics since arriving at Kalakaua Middle in 2011. Colleagues say Kay’s passion and enthusiasm in the classroom, combined with relevant and engaging science lessons, motivate and challenge all students to keep improving. She is credited for spearheading a VEX Bots Program that has captivated students and qualified the school for national and international events such as the 2013 VEX Robotics World Championships in Anaheim, Calif.

Students consider Kay a trusting and caring educator whose classroom doors stay open long after the bell rings, and even on weekends, so they may work on projects and assignments. Teaching at a school with a large immigrant population – and where seven out of every 10 students come from low-income backgrounds – Kay strives to forge lasting relationships with families by always being present at parent nights and sporting events.

Kay also leads by example. Despite taking on additional, time-consuming leadership roles and responsibilities with the school’s accreditation team and Advancement Via Individual Determination program, Kay remains devoted to refining her craft by obtaining higher educational degrees and enrolling in professional development courses.

The prestigious honor, the only one presented in Hawaii this school year, will be bestowed upon up to 40 of America’s most outstanding secondary school educators in 2013-14.

Since its inception, 71 Hawaii educators have received Milken Educator Awards totaling $1,775,000.

The Milken Educator Awards, founded by Lowell Milken to attract, retain and motivate outstanding talent to the teaching profession, is the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program, dubbed the “Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher Magazine. Since 1987, the Milken Family Foundation, co-founded by Michael and Lowell Milken, has devoted more than $136 million in funding to the Milken Educator Awards, including over $64 million in individual awards to nearly 2,600 recipients plus powerful professional development opportunities and networking with leading education stakeholders.

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