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Inouye shares a celebratory Facetime call to his family with Lowell Milken, chairman of the Milken Family Foundation. (Photo credit: Department of Education)

A pair of University of Hawaiʻi alumni were presented with the Milken Educator Award in April. Regarded as the “Oscar Award of Teaching,” the award celebrates exceptional teachers and comes with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize.

Rory Inouye

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Inouye pauses for a selfie with his students. (Photo credit: Department of Education)

Rory Inouye—a mathematics teacher at Waiākea High School—earned his bachelor’s degree in education from UH Mānoa and a master’s degree in education from UH Hilo. The Waiākea High alum’s passion for teaching is a family strength with his father, mother and brother all serving as educators.

Inouye’s leadership shines throughout the school where he serves on the Waiākea High School Freshman Academy faculty, manages after-school tutoring programs and advises the Homecoming Committee. Inouye, a former Waiākea High baseball player, also coached the team to consecutive appearances in Division I championship games in 2017 and 2018.

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Inouye received a $25,000 prize as part of his Milken Educator Award.
(Photo credit: Department of Education)

“I got into teaching not to win awards and not to be recognized, but to help the students, to give back. I remember being a student at Waiākea High School, and I wasn’t the strongest student. For me, that really inspired me to be a math teacher. We want to show students you don’t have to be afraid of math,” Inouye said after receiving his award. “To be awarded this it’s just shocking, amazing, and I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it.”

Inouye was honored by Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, Hawaiʻi Board of Education Chairman Warren Haruki, Hawaiʻi Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi and other officials.

Jade Pham

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Pham reacts to being named a recipient of the Milken Educator Award in a surprise school assembly. (Photo credit: Department of Education)

Jade Pham—student services coordinator at Kawānanakoa Middle School—earned her master’s degree in education from UH Mānoa in 2019. After earning her master’s degree, she began her career as a special education and general education teacher. In 2021, Pham made the move to Kawānanakoa Middle and served as a special education and social studies teacher before assuming her current position, where she provides direct support to all classrooms and works closely with teachers to ensure high-quality learning for all students.

Pham received her National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification in February 2024, and was recently tapped to serve as a temporarily assigned vice principal for the school, which has an enrollment of 595 students.

people standing with a large check
Pham is presented the unrestricted $25,000 cash prize that comes with the Milken Educator Award. (Photo credit: Department of Education)

Pham shared that she immigrated to Hawaiʻi with her family as a toddler and attended public schools throughout her educational journey—from Linapuni Elementary and Pālolo Elementary to Jarrett Middle and Kaimukī High School—while she grew up in public housing.

“I do believe that I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for all of my teachers that believed in me growing up,” Pham said after receiving the award. “All and all it’s the teachers that really mentored me from when I was in preschool all the way up till today.”

Pham was presented the award by Milken, Gov. Josh Green, Hayashi and other officials in a surprise schoolwide assembly as students, teachers and staff members cheered her accomplishments.

Pham and Inouye are the 81st and 82nd Hawaiʻi teachers, respectively, to receive the award since Hawaiʻi joined the program in 1990. They are the first dual Milken awardees in Hawaiʻi since 2016.

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