Mililani High School teacher wins national honor
• Photo gallery: Milken Award
Mililani High School language arts teacher Lisa-Anne Tsuruda got what might have been the surprise of her life yesterday when she was named a winner of a national education award.
Tsuruda was seated in the bleachers at the school stadium along with the school's 2,500 students at the end of what everyone thought was a bomb scare evacuation drill when Gov. Linda Lingle told the crowd that Tsuruda has been chosen as the Hawaii winner of a 2009 Milken Educator Award.
Before announcing the winner, Lingle elicited a chorus of oohs and aahs when she told the students the award comes with an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles.
The reaction grew even louder when Lingle announced that the winner will be given a $25,000 check from the Milken Family Foundation to spend any way he or she wants.
Finally, when Lingle announced Tsuruda as the winner, the crowd let out a spontaneous, touchdown-level cheer as the much-loved teacher sprang to her feet and threw both arms — with fists clenched — high above her head.
It was the kind of energy and enthusiasm that Tsuruda brings with her every day to class, several of her students said.
Tsuruda bounded down the steps, got a hug from the governor and lei from several school administrators and state Department of Education officials.
She turned to face the crowd, microphone in one hand and bouquet in the other, and proclaimed: "Oh, my God. I love you — I love my students. Anyone who hasn't had me yet, please come and be my student."
It was a defining moment for Tsuruda, whose career ambitions began long before she signed on with the state's public education system 18 years ago.
"I knew when I was 5 years old that I wanted to become a teacher," she said in an interview following the assembly. "There is nothing else I ever wanted to be."
She would round up the neighborhood kids and use stuffed animals to fill the desks in her imaginary classroom.
She spent 13 years teaching at Waianae High School and the past five years at Mililani, where she is head of the English Department.
Tsuruda received a Walmart teacher of the year award last year and has two friends who are previous Milken award winners.
Mililani senior Lauren Mottley described Tsuruda as "just really fun to be around."
"She has a lot of energy and there is never a dull moment in her class," Mottley said.
"She knows how to keep the energy level up. I never go in to her classroom not expecting to do something fun," she said.
Noah Perales-Estoesta, also a senior, praised Tsuruda's energy and her ability to challenge students to get more out of them than they thought was possible.
"She tackles the course material in a way that's entertaining and helps us to learn. There's a lot of laughing along with the learning — she's just so over the top," Perales-Estoesta said.
Christopher Sato, who is in his fifth year of teaching English and journalism at Mililani, described Tsuruda as "open hearted" and "warm hearted."
"She's always there for support, whether you're a veteran teacher or a new teacher," Sato said.
Mililani principal John Brummel said Tsuruda's care and concern for others are immeasurable.
"Everything she does, she does for other people," Brummel said. "She cares so deeply about each of her students, she makes sure nobody fails."
Tsuruda measures her own success in a number of different ways.
"I love it when one of the kids comes to me and says they loved this or that book," she said.
"Or during parent-teacher conferences when one of the parents will say, 'You taught my older child, now I want you to teach this one.'
"Their trust in me is so powerful."