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Fostering an Interactive Classroom Earns Kelly Sutcliffe, of Honolulu, the $25,000 Milken Educator Award

TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) Atmosphere Strengthens Ohana in the Classroom

February 02, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Numbers and letters go hand-in-hand, especially if you're a fourth grader solving multi-step word problems or engineering STEM projects in Kelly Sutcliffe's class at President Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Honolulu. Using mnemonic devices so students can remember the steps, fourth-graders Answer, Compute and Explain (ACE) their understanding of the concept by showing the process. Sutcliffe's student-centered approach promotes creative teamwork, leadership and problem-solving within a culture of respect as students study together to present their work and help teach the class.

The focus of attention at the school assembly today was on surprising Sutcliffe. Hawaii Governor David Ige and First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige continued their tour with Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken to present Sutcliffe with the second and final Milken Educator Award of the day to a Hawaii teacher. State Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, Complex Area Superintendent Ruth Silberstein and veteran Milken Educator Award recipients joined the celebration as Jefferson Elementary's “Surfers” rode a wave of excitement.

Sutcliffe is among up to 35 honorees who will receive this national recognition and unrestricted $25,000 cash prize for 2016-17. This season marks the 30th year of the Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching."

"Kelly Sutcliffe motivates her students to 'be the best you can be!' and achieve increasingly higher results. This performance-driven mindset imbues a sense of purpose and preparation for the challenges of the future," said Lowell Milken. "We welcome Kelly to the Milken Educator family, and are excited to follow her bright future in teaching—our nation's most noble profession."

"Congratulations to Kelly Sutcliffe on being awarded this prestigious honor. Her innovative teaching has truly made a difference to the success of students at Jefferson Elementary," said Governor Ige. "I congratulate Ms. Sutcliffe on behalf of the State of Hawaii and speak for all of us when I say mahalo for your dedication to Hawaii's public school students."

"The excitement from today's events will be remembered by this school not only because of the nature of this prestigious award, but also the impact that teachers have made and continue to make on the lives of their students," stated Matayoshi. "Congratulations to Ms. Sutcliffe for her achievements and for being an inspiration to so many! She is an example of how innovative lessons can spark a student’s passion for STEM."

For Kelly Sutcliffe's fourth-graders at Jefferson Elementary, a highly-diverse pre-K through fifth-grade school in Honolulu, learning means solving problems in the real world. For a unit on rising temperatures, Sutcliffe asked students to design and build portable air-conditioning units using the Engineering Design Process (EDP) and low-cost materials like foam coolers, PVC piping and ice cubes. Working in small groups, the students created four different units, then measured air temperatures to see how well the units worked. Sutcliffe also used a STEM materials grant from Veggie U, a Hawaii state educational program focused on agriculture and sustainable farming, to incorporate the school's vermicomposting center into science classes.

Known as a dynamic teacher who sparks a fire in her students, Sutcliffe uses a variety of modalities to meet students' individual learning needs, including visuals, hands-on tasks, manipulatives, discussion, collaboration and kinesthetic movement. For word problems, Sutcliffe teaches students the CUBES strategy: Circle the numbers, Underline the question, Box the clue words, Evaluate, Solve and check. She serves as facilitator as students quiz each other on multiplication problems, write problems on the whiteboard, share geometric drawings, and monitor each other's behavior. Students choose among learning centers and small groups, with Sutcliffe tying lessons to students' personal interests to keep them engaged.

Driven by data, Sutcliffe examines monthly benchmark assessments that identify each student's strengths and opportunities for growth. Together, she and her students set attainable monthly goals. Parents see Sutcliffe as a partner in their children's education; she is welcoming and genuine in her interactions, reinforcing her belief that they and their children are important to her.

Sutcliffe is deeply committed to the idea that all students deserve quality instruction. She has planned and delivered professional development for Jefferson's staff and school community; participates in STEM, leadership and grade-level committees; assists with annual pacing guide development, curriculum mapping and instructional modeling; and serves as the school's STEM lead. Sutcliffe mentors future educators from nearby universities and has helped many student teachers prepare for careers in the classroom. Jefferson's culture centers around "TEAM" (Together Everyone Achieves More), a concept Sutcliffe embraces fully. She goes above and beyond both in the classroom and outside it. When a student with special needs had trouble hiking up to a petroglyph site during an outdoor education trip on the Big Island, Sutcliffe carried the student on her back.

Sutcliffe earned a Bachelor of Science in elementary STEM education from the College of New Jersey in 2005 and a Master of Education in math curriculum studies, magna cum laude, from the University of Hawaii in 2014.

More information about Sutcliffe, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

In addition to Sutcliffe, third-grade math and science teacher Masaru Uchino of Momilani Elementary School in Pearl City received a Milken Educator Award this morning. Learn more about Uchino here:

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Sutcliffe's honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top principals, teachers and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

Besides participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2016-17 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum, March 23-25, 2017, in New Orleans. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about the importance of maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards program, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children’s education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at,,, and

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation, is in its 30th year. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.