Auntie Lisa's big day


POSTED: Friday, October 23, 2009

Lisa-Ann Tsuruda, a 12th-grade Mililani High School English teacher, wants to be addressed as “;Auntie Lisa,”; not “;Mrs. Tsuruda,”; which speaks volumes about the way she cares for students.

For inspiring her students and colleagues to strive for excellence, Tsuruda was named this year's Hawaii winner of the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

Gov. Linda Lingle presented Tsuruda yesterday with the largest teacher-recognition honor in the nation, bestowed on more than 50 teachers for the 23rd year. It came with a $25,000 cash prize that Tsuruda, 41, intends to spend on promoting literacy and classroom computers after she pays some bills.

“;Oh my God! I absolutely love this school!”; she screamed when the award was announced before 2,500 cheering students.

“;I tried to be the best because you guys tried to be the best,”; she added, wiping away tears.


Senior Kristen StephensonPino never had Tsuruda for a teacher, but has hung out with friends in her classroom after school since her freshman year.

“;I watched her help people with homework, and she even helped students from other classes with their English,”; StephensonPino said. “;She's really fun and outgoing. Most of the time you wouldn't want to read a book, but she would make it really interesting so you would say, 'Oh, I want to read that!' ... If anyone was to get this award, she deserved it.”;

Jordan Takayama, a senior in Tsuruda's advanced-placement English literature and composition class, said, “;She's always available to her students in the morning, lunchtime and after school. She's devoted to giving us the most possible instruction she can. She always tries to make the material fun for us.”;

Tsuruda, head of Mililani's Language Arts Department, joined the faculty in 2005. Before that she taught at Waianae High School for nearly 12 years.

“;I was lucky to have caring teachers,”; she said, adding that she is committed to giving her students the same kind of personal attention.

She has a picture of her favorite teacher—Margaret Helen Wood of Sacred Hearts Academy—and, she said, “;I look at it every day. It inspires me.”;

Tsuruda said she will continue preparing class work, like all Mililani teachers, even without pay during the 17 teacher-furlough days recently implemented due to budget cuts.

“;I'm a teacher 365 days a year. My kids know I'm very reachable. Even if they call me at 1 in the morning, I'll be there for them.”;

She also expects her students to “;use the extra time to focus on their work. ... My kids are conditioned to working at full throttle.”;

Tsuruda also won the 2008 Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year Award, for which she was nominated by her students; Waianae High School's Outstanding Teacher Award in 1996 and 1997; and Oceanic Cable and Finance Factors' Outstanding Educator Award for 1994-1995. She was a finalist for Hawaii's Everyday Heroes Award in 2007.