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Hilo Hometown Hero Rory Inouye Scores $25,000 National Milken Educator Award

Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken, alongside Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke and State Superintendent Keith Hayashi, presents "Oscar of Teaching"

April 09, 2024

Santa Monica. Calif. The national Milken Educator Awards tour continued in Hilo, Hawaii, today to recognize Rory Inouye, math teacher at Waiakea High School, his own alma mater. Milken Educator Awards Founder Lowell Milken – alongside Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke and State Superintendent of Education Keith Hayashi – surprised Inouye before cheering students, proud colleagues, local dignitaries and media. The Award includes a $25,000 financial prize that Inouye may spend however he chooses. 

Inouye is the first Milken Educator Award recipient from the Big Island since 2007 and the second and final Hawaii honoree for the 2023-24 season. Jade Pham, student services coordinator at Prince David Kawananakoa Middle School in Honolulu, received the Award yesterday, April 8. 

"Hailing from a family of educators with deep roots in the community, Rory Inouye's passion for teaching and learning is evident in every endeavor," said Lowell Milken. "Rory's innovation in the classroom, coupled by his leadership and investment in the school at large, are making an indelible impact on students, colleagues, and the community he proudly serves. We congratulate Rory and welcome him to the Milken Educator Network.”

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Awards will honor up to 75 recipients across the country in 2023-24 as part of the Milken Family Foundation's Journey to the 3,000th Milken Educator. 2023-24 will reach $75 million in individual financial prizes spanning the length of the initiative and more than $144 million invested in the Milken Educator Award national network overall, empowering recipients to "Celebrate, Elevate, and Activate" the K-12 profession and inspiring young, capable people to pursue teaching as a career. 

"Rory is an exceptional teacher who tailors math and problem-solving lessons to his students' diverse backgrounds and talents to make learning a truly personal and engaging journey," Superintendent Hayashi said. "His firm belief in student-led learning and real-world applications allows his students to see the practical relevance of mathematics in their daily lives, making abstract concepts tangible and intuitive. We are very lucky to have teachers like Rory who work hard to make learning fun and meaningful for students of all levels."

Inouye was completely unaware of his candidacy for the Award. Recipients are sought out while early to mid-career for what they have achieved – and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities afforded by the Award. 

More about Rory Inouye 

Commitment and Connection to Students: For Waiakea High School (WHS) math teacher Rory Inouye, teaching is a family affair: his father, mother and brother are educators. A graduate of WHS himself, Inouye brings a fresh enthusiasm to his classroom every day, so much so that it is not uncommon to see full groups of students visiting during recess or lunch. By helping to create a safe space for students to think critically and collaboratively, Inouye has contributed to notable increases in student proficiency on state assessments year after year. 

Dynamic Hub for Student-Led Learning: Inouye's classroom is an interactive hub for all students, where he tailors lessons and curriculum to their diverse learning backgrounds, levels, styles and talents. A firm believer in student-led learning, Inouye roots his classroom in higher-order thinking and problem-solving. He fuels collaboration and uses student work as his constant guide. Valuing relevancy and real-world situations, he will often draw from compelling math podcasts and use online technologies like the Desmos Classroom platform to improve students' understanding of mathematical concepts in a fun, engaging way. These are only a few elements that make Inouye's classroom a destination for observation by other schools and leaders. 

School Leadership: Outside of the classroom, his leadership shines throughout the halls of WHS where he serves on the faculty of the WHS Freshman Academy, manages after-school tutoring, advises Homecoming, and led his freshmen students through a life goal-setting project that they presented to WHS and community members. His influence extends to new and veteran teachers alike who regularly come to him for advice and encouragement. A former baseball player at WHS, he later coached the team to award-winning status. 

Education: Inouye received his Bachelor of Arts in education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2011 and his Master of Education in 2013 from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. 

More about the Milken Educator Award Journey: "The Future Belongs to the Educated" 

  • The honorees attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles this June, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to broaden their impact on K-12 education.
  • Honorees receive powerful mentorship opportunities for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy. Milken Friends Forever (MFF) pairs a new recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor; the Expanding MFF Resource and Explorer Program fosters individual veteran Milken Educator partnerships around a specific topic area; and Activating Milken Educators (AME) promotes group collaboration in and across states to tackle pressing educational needs.
  • Veteran Milken Educators demonstrate a wide range of leadership roles at state, national and international levels.
  • The $25,000 cash Award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. Some recipients have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children. 

Follow the Milken Educator Awards tour and use the #MEA3K and #MilkenAward hashtags on: Facebook (MilkenEducatorAwards) | X (Milken) | YouTube (MilkenAward) | Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn) | LinkedIn (MilkenFamilyFdn) | TikTok (MilkenAward). 

Visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772 for more information. 

About the Milken Educator Awards
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. Created by philanthropist and education visionary Lowell Milken, 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. The Milken Family Foundation celebrates more than 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at