‘Ewa Makai Middle school teacher receives prestigious Milken Educator Award

The award honors outstanding excellence in education and comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize

Miki Cacace, a math teacher at ‘Ewa Makai Middle School known for her coding classes, has become the latest recipient of the coveted Milken Educator Award.

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

Cacace, who is also a Hawaii State Teachers Association Leeward Chapter member and a school-level leader, is the only Milken Educator Award winner from Hawai‘i this year, and is among 40 nationwide honorees for 2019–20.

Cacace was surprised with the award before students, faculty and community leaders at ‘Ewa Makai Middle. Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto, Gov. David Ige, First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige, and 30 past Milken award recipients were also present.

Cacace volunteered to expand her math curriculum by teaching a coding class. Students learn the basics of coding while building games and apps that are test-driven and rated by their peers. Students invite friends to try out their apps, offer constructive suggestions, and vote for their favorites. Cacace showcases the group’s work at Coding Night, where parents and siblings check out students’ creations.

“Miki’s innovative coding classes have empowered her students to dream big in their pursuit of 21st century STEM careers,” Kishimoto said. “The Department thanks Miki for her passion and dedication to nurturing Hawai‘i’s next generation of computer scientists.”

“All of us are so proud of Miki for earning this well-deserved award,” ‘Ewa Makai Middle School Principal Kim Sanders said. “And I know she wants to share this with everyone, as we’re all about teamwork and collaboration here at ‘Ewa Makai.”

Formerly a graphic designer at an advertising agency, Cacace knew before long that she wanted to be in a profession that would allow her to have a direct and positive impact on her community.

“I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference,” Cacace said. “In middle school, we get to make that difference because our students are learning who they are and what they are about — we’re able to instill a growth mindset.”

A member of the school’s social-emotional learning (SEL) leadership team, Cacace started a weekly habit of eating lunch with students who were sitting alone and encouraged her colleagues to follow her lead. To better understand the way students experience their school, Cacace shadowed a student for an entire day and challenged SEL committee members to do the same. She developed an SEL website with lessons on empathy and creating a caring culture for her peers to use during their advisory classes.

Cacace earned her bachelor’s degree in 2007 from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and a master’s in elementary education in 2010 from the University of Phoenix.

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.

Cacace is the 78th Hawai‘i teacher to receive the award since Hawai‘i joined the program in 1990. The 78 Hawai‘i recipients have received awards along with a total of $1.9 million in prize monies.

Photo and update provided by the Hawaii State Department of Education.