Esther Kwon, an assistant principal at Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School, received a $25,000 cash prize Tuesday for her innovative teaching during a school assembly surrounded by hundreds of her colleagues and students. 

Kwon was among 40 elementary school educators nationwide to be awarded by the Milken Family Foundation during this school year. Milken Educator Award senior vice president Jane Foley, Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke and Department of Education superintendent Keith Hayashi conducted the presentation.

“Esther is an outstanding innovator who continually finds new ways to motivate students to incorporate their passions and interests into their work to keep them inspired and engaged,” Hayashi said in a news release. “As a Hawaii State Teacher Fellow, Esther mentors her fellow teachers and guides them through their professional development journeys, helping to improve student outcomes across the board.”

Kwon is known by some of her students as “DJ Kwon” because of her “pineapple talk time,” a conversation and reflection around music that she implemented when she was a teacher at the Wahiawa school last year.  

“Esther’s commitment to the students, staff and the entire Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School community is evident to all who know her, and today, we get to highlight her excellence in teaching for the nation,” Foley said in a news release.

In all, nearly 3,000 awards totaling $70 million have gone to honor top educators around the country since the awards were created by Lowell Milken in 1987. The recipients may spend the money as they please.

According to a news release, some recipients have used the money on their children’s education or their own, financing field trips, establishing scholarships and even adopting children. 

Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.

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