Curriculum coach Jana Fukada of Mililani Uka Elementary School got a big surprise Monday morning when she received the prestigious Milken Educator Award at a school assembly.

Regarded as the “Oscar of Teaching,” the award honors outstanding excellence in education and carries a $25,000 cash prize. The announcement was made at the school with Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, deputy superintendent Ronn Nozoe and Milken Educator representative Jane Foley, Ph.D., also in attendance.

“I’m just really surprised,” said Fukada. “I saw the media and I was wondering what’s going on… so I never expected it would be me.

“I don’t know if it’s all sunk in yet,” she said, “but it just helps to validate what we do as teachers and all the people who have helped me to get where I am in my career. … It’s an indicator that I’m heading in the right direction and I should just continue to do what I do, to help teachers and students learn, and to help myself to keep learning.”

“Jana’s passion for teaching and continuous drive to refine her lessons to better serve all students create an engaging classroom environment for learning,” Nozoe said at the assembly. “Her commitment to grow as an educator and share her expertise with her peers has immensely benefited students and Hawaii’s public school system.”

Fukada has taught at Mililani Uka for seven years. This year, Fukada switched roles from being a kindergarten teacher to serving as a curriculum coach for grades K-2. She’s been a grade level chairperson for three years and was the only teacher selected to serve on the state’s Student Information Systems Evaluation Committee. Additionally, she has presented at the consortium for the Hawaii Council of Teachers of Mathematics and Hawaii Writing Conference and has visited other islands to help train teachers on math curriculum.

“Jana is always willing to take on a challenge if it will benefit her students and her school,” said Mililani Uka Principal Heather Wilhelm. “Parents express that she is a ‘gem’ and that they are so grateful Jana was their child’s teacher.”

“I love working with the kids,” Fukada said.” I love it when they get it and they’re so excited when they figure it out on their own. You can see their eyes light up.”

A Punahou School graduate, Fukada earned 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 is currently working on earning her doctorate from the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education with a focus on the Korean education system.

As for plans on spending her cash prize, she said it’ll help pay off her huge graduate school loan, get a new car and “maybe a fun thing, but I’ll try to be responsible.”

The Milken Educator Awards is the nation’s preeminent teacher recognition program, and since 1987, the Milken Family Foundation has devoted more than $137 million to its funding. Since its inception, 72 Hawaii educators have received Milken Educator Awards totaling $1.8 million.

Click here for more information, including a list of all former Hawaii and national award winners.