Catherine Caine named Hawaii’s 2015 State Teacher of the Year

Waikiki Elementary teacher is named state’s top educator

By Nanea Kalani

Catherine Caine

Waikiki Elementary School teacher Catherine Caine is a big believer in connecting classroom lessons to everyday life through hands-on learning.

Her second-graders have collected pennies for leukemia to learn math. And they’ve penned letters to the school’s principal suggesting playground upgrades to hone their persuasive writing skills.

“Second grade is where they say you go to retire,” Caine said, noting that she’s eligible for retirement in a few months.

“But no way! I am just getting started. It’s a beautiful profession,” she said Friday after being named the 2015 State Teacher of the Year, the Department of Education’s top teaching award, by Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe.

The honor is presented annually to a classroom teacher chosen from more than 11,000 public school educators. Caine, 61, will represent Hawaii in the National Teacher of the Year Program in April.

Her teaching career has spanned 34 years, the past 24 at Wai­kiki Elementary — where she said she’s been a “jack of all trades,” having previously taught kindergarten, fourth grade and science for all of the elementary’s grades.

Caine gathered with this year’s six other District Teacher of the Year winners in the state Capitol auditorium Friday to learn who would earn the top title along with prizes including a $1,000 check from the Polynesian Cultural Center, the award program’s corporate sponsor; a one-year lease of a new car provided by Honda Windward; and products from SMART Technologies.

When Nozoe announced her name, Caine’s jaw dropped as she looked at her colleagues in disbelief.

“I’m truly just a classroom teacher who’s going to walk into her classroom and try to do better every single day for the children in my care, and I’m sure there are so many out there doing the same thing,” she said. “I’m not standing all by myself. Behind me so many people share this honor with me: my family, my friends, my colleagues. But most of all, those little guys who I meet every day in my second-grade class, that teach me more than I could ever learn in a textbook about what it means to be a great learner.”

Caine is credited with making learning meaningful, memorable and fun for students.

“Catherine brings out the best in her students, integrating technology to excite them and tackling relevant issues to engage them,” Superintendent Kathryn Mata­yo­shi said in a statement. “Catherine’s dedication to students is matched only by her exemplary determination to share her expertise with fellow educators and help them grow.”

Caine said she hopes the recognition will allow her to highlight the work of other dedicated public school teachers.

“It’s very shocking to me, but the meaning for me is that I have to do an even better job because I’m representing all the really hardworking teachers in this state, and believe me, I know how hard we work at Wai­kiki Elementary — come by any Sunday and you’ll see windows popped open, us preparing for the week,” she said. “So many teachers give it their all, 24/7. For me this gives me the opportunity to represent that, and to tell their story.”

She holds a teacher education diploma and a master’s degree in curriculum studies focused in pre-kindergarten to third grade from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She earned an undergraduate degree in child development from San Diego State University.

The other finalists honored as District Teachers of the Year, who each received $500 from the Polynesian Cultural Center and classroom technologies from SMART Technologies, were:

» Richard Arase, Maui District, Maui Waena Intermediate.

» Elizabeth Frilles Windward District, Olo­mana School.

» David Huitt, Hawaii Island District, Keala­kehe High.

» Marly Madayag, Kauai District, Kala­heo Elementary.

» Jamie Takamura, Central District, Red Hill Elementary.

» Masaru Uchino, Leeward District, Momi­lani Elementary.


“These teachers are amongst the finest in Hawaii,” Nozoe said. “It’s a team effort, and at the same time the teachers that we’re honoring today have a very direct and lasting impact on the lives of each student who has walked into their classroom.”