Mililani Uka teacher receives prestigious Milken Educator Award
Oahu schoolteacher receives prestigious Milken Educator Award
Jana Fukada is surprised by her honor at a Mililani Uka Elementary assembly
By Nanea Kalani
Above, friends and colleagues congratulated Fukada.
Mililani Uka Elementary School teacher Jana Fukada says the best part about her job is seeing the satisfaction and excitement on students’ faces when they master a concept or lesson.
“I love working with the kids. I love it when they get it and they’re so excited. They’re like, ‘I did it! I did it!’” Fukada said. “When they figure it out on their own and you can see their eyes light up and just get so excited.”
In her seven years of teaching, colleagues say, she’s been a force for education in her school and at the state level. The former kindergarten teacher is credited with skillfully blending care and rigor in the classroom, where 93 percent of her students performed at grade level in math, 94 percent tested proficient in science and 100 percent met social studies goals.
Fukada moved into the role of curriculum coach at Mililani Uka this year, serving as a resource for her colleagues.
“Jana’s passion for teaching and continuous drive to refine her lessons to better serve all students create an engaging classroom environment for learning,” said Ronn Nozoe, deputy superintendent for the Department of Education. “Her commitment to grow as an educator and share her expertise with her peers has immensely benefited students and Hawaii’s public school system.”
At a schoolwide assembly Monday, an unsuspecting Fukada, 32, was named a recipient of the Milken Educator Award, a national honor that recognizes excellence in education and comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.
Before announcing Fukada as the winner, Jane Foley, a senior vice president with the California-based Milken Family Foundation, built up excitement among the more than 600 anxious students packed into the school’s cafeteria.
“I came to tell you a secret,” Foley told the crowd. “One of the best educators in the entire country is here, in your school.”
Up to 40 exemplary elementary teachers are surprised with awards each year, but Fukada is the only Hawaii recipient this year, Foley said.
“Jana is always willing to take on a challenge if it will benefit her students and her school,” Mililani Uka Principal Heather Wilhelm said. “Parents express that she is a gem and that they are so grateful Jana was their child’s teacher.”
Fukada, a Kailua native and Punahou School graduate, said the award was a complete surprise.
“This is kind of intense. I’m still shaking,” she told reporters. “I don’t really know what I did. I feel like I just did my job. … I don’t even know that I deserve this, but I’m really honored.”
Fukada said she views the recognition as a validation of her efforts.
“It’s just an indicator to me that I’m headed in the right direction and I should just continue doing what I do to help teachers learn and students learn and help myself keep learning,” she said.
She said she hopes the award helps put a positive light on the teaching profession.
“It’s tough to be an educator, but everything we do makes a difference,” she said. “It just helps to validate what we do as teachers.”
Fukada said she’ll likely use her cash prize to pay down her student loan and maybe buy a car.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She’s working on her doctorate from the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.
“I actually have a huge loan to pay off for my graduate school, so probably that,” Fukada said when asked how she plans to use the money. “I’ve been trying to get a car for a long time. I’m worried about my car being capable of getting me from place to place, so it’ll probably help out with that, too. So loan, definitely, but maybe some of it will go to that — a fun thing.”
In a candid moment she said she was relieved that she got a beauty treatment over the weekend given all the media attention on the award.
“I’m just in awe, and I’m just really glad that, you know, I got my eyelashes done this weekend,” she said.
Since 1990, 72 Hawaii educators have received Milken awards totaling $1.8 million.