Tsuruda Wins $25,000 National Educator Award

Alana Folen
Wednesday - December 02, 2009
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An emotional Lisa-Anne Tsuruda addresses the Mililani High School crowd with (from left) schools chief Pat Hamamoto, BOE member Eileen Clarke, Complex Area superintendent Patricia Park and Gov. Linda Lingle. Photo courtesy of Sandy Goya.

For Mililani High School senior English teacher Lisa-Anne Tsuruda, teaching is not only a job, it’s a passion. She loves teaching her students how to become good writers, but more importantly to be well-rounded individuals who will have a positive impact on society.

Inspiring both her students and her colleagues, Tsuruda recently was honored as this year’s state winner of the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award. Gov. Lingle presented her with the surprise award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize. It recognizes exemplary instructional practices, outstanding accomplishments and long-range potential to contribute to the teaching profession, and an inspiring presence that motivates students, colleagues and the community.

“Gov. Linda Lingle said my name in front of the 2,500 students and staff of the school,” she said.“My first reaction was utter elation and surprise. I already was getting emotional while she was explaining the award. I was thinking, ‘One of my friends is going to get it!’ Our school has so many phenomenal teachers . It could have been anyone.”

Called “Aunty Lisa,” by her students, Tsuruda also chairs the language arts department and implements a rigorous curriculum using the Successful Practices Network Gold Seal Lesson Program. Although she demands only the best from her students, she does so with the kind-hearted demeanor of a dedicated educator.

“My students and many of my former students continue to inspire me. The best part of my job, hands down, is when they are successful in life,“said Tsuruda who’s been at MHS since 2005 and previously taught at Waianae High School for nearly 12 years.

“When I see how high they reach and the determination and plain sacrifice and courage some of them display in the many facets of their lives - academics, sports, volunteerism, in their respective careers and as parents and spouses themselves - I am constantly amazed and inspired.”

“I strongly believe that everyone can learn and teach; that I can learn as much from my students and fellow teachers. I am always open to finding out something new or another perspective on how to think about something. I am a lifelong learner and I strive to instill that in everyone around me.”

Tsuruda plans to use part of her prize money to her children’s education and save some for the future. She is most excited, however, about establishing a scholarship for a graduating Mililani senior who plans to become a teacher.

“My goal is to keep the yearly scholarship going as long as possible,” she stated. “I was lucky enough to receive the Cec Heftel Scholarship when I was a senior, and it definitely helped me. I want to continue this legacy.“The first grant will go to a graduate of the class of 2010.

Hawaii’s latest Milken winner also has established two book fairs for the high school and created a prom dress exchange to raise money for abused women. She also serves on the state committee to develop an expository curriculum and revise state standards and is a member of the Central District Mentoring Program.

“My mission statement in life is simple. To live as much as possible and to love as much as possible; to be mindful of the legacy that I will leave behind with every person that I touch and meet - to truly make a difference.”

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