An Ala Wai Elementary Title I coordinator has become the latest recipient of the coveted Milken Educator Award.

Sara King was surprised with the award during a school-wide assembly in front of more than 400 cheering students, teachers and staff members Monday.

Regarded as the "Oscar Award of teaching," the award honors outstanding excellence in education and comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.  

King is the only Hawaii Milken Educator in 2019, and is among 33 teachers nationwide selected for the honor this season. 

As the Title I coordinator for Ala Wai Elementary School, King develops school-wide support systems that allow all students to thrive and reach their full potential. She works with her colleagues to achieve these goals with tiered support systems and enrichment programs.

Before taking over the Title I coordinator role in August 2017, King taught first grade and served as grade level leader. 

“I always wanted to be a teacher ever since I was little, so it was never a question of what I wanted to major in,” said King. “My favorite part of the day is working with my small groups of children. In deciding to come out of the classroom, one of my things was that I want to still be with kids every single day.”

Ala Wai Elementary Principal Michelle DeBusca says King has been instrumental in shifting school culture through her sharing of ideas and resources to promote student achievement and positive behavior.

"Mrs. King is an inspirational educator who inspires her students to believe in themselves and to dream big and work hard to make it happen," she said. "As a school leader, she is collaborative and supportive in developing school systems that are focused on student needs. Mrs. King is resourceful and innovative in her practices to challenge students to meet their fullest potential."

King collaborates frequently with colleagues to plan school events such as learning showcases, Leader in Me Parent Nights, Title 1 workshops, May Day, and small group literacy practices. She also helped to organize and coach the school’s first unified basketball and softball teams; an exciting opportunity for many students who never played organized sports before.

“Sara’s dedication to excellence in the classroom, empowers her students to be accomplished learners who utilize their voice, collaborate with one another, and develop solutions to real world problems," said Superintendent Dr. Christina M. Kishimoto.  "Her tenacity in ensuring that her students are equipped with the skills to thrive in an information-dependent global society is tremendous and we congratulate and thank her for being such an inspiration for our students."

In the classroom, King made a paradigm shift from traditional teaching practices to facilitate student independence and critical thinking skills. She is recognized as a student-centered teacher who believes in students’ innate curiosity to develop critical thinking. She often helps her students categorize, prioritize, and evaluate their own ideas to formulate defining questions to research and design project-based solutions.

For the past three years, King has been rated as highly effective in her Educator Effectiveness System (EES) evaluation for her instructional strategies with distinguishing marks in the areas of establishing a culture for learning, managing student behavior, and engaging students in learning. Her classroom data showed an increase in student literacy for all students on the Standardized Test for Assessment of Reading (STAR) assessment for first grade students and students’ standards-based grades also showed a 57% increase in proficiency in English Language Arts (ELA) reading performance.

"Sara's genuine devotion and continuous drive to empower each child to thrive both in and out of the classroom truly makes her deserving of this recognition," said Complex Area Superintendent Linell Dilwith. "Our complex, students, and families are extremely fortunate to have a teacher as dedicated and passionate as Mrs. King."

King is a graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education in 2008. She later earned a master of education in curriculum studies with an emphasis in multicultural education in 2012.

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.

King is the 77th Hawaii teacher to receive the Milken Educator Award since Hawaii joined the program in 1990.

Photos provided by Milken Family Foundation.