Chaminade Alumna named West Hawai‘i Teacher of the Year
One of 16 finalists for the 2024 Hawaiʻi State Teacher of the Year recognition, Jennifer Ilaban MEd. ’06 said she actually had no desire to become an educator when she was younger. But a volunteer experience while she was a student at Chaminade University changed her career trajectory.
“For one of my scholarships, I had to do some volunteer work, and from that experience I gained a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment,” said the Kahakai Elementary English Language Arts teacher in a pre-recorded video about her nomination as a finalist. “I wanted to give back to my community and make a difference in the lives of kids. So, I continued my education to become a teacher.”
Chaminade Director of Early Childhood and Montessori Programs, Dr. Elizabeth Park remembers Ilaban well. She was one of her very first student teachers, and Park knew even then that Ilaban would make a great teacher.
“I still have the books she created with the children that I use as examples of good literacy practice,” said Park, who was invited by Ilaban to attend the 2024 Hawaiʻi State Teacher of the Year ceremony at Washington Place. “So, I was not surprised that she received the West Hawai‘i Teacher of the Year Award.”
The Hawaiʻi State Teacher of the Year honor is presented annually to a classroom teacher selected from more than 13,000 Hawaiʻi State Department of Education (HIDOE) educators. The winner goes on to represent Hawaiʻi in the National Teacher of the Year program, which provides a new cohort of State Teachers of the Year with a yearlong, one-of-a-kind professional learning and development experience.
“We’re excited to be here today to honor 16 finalists from our public and charter schools statewide,” said Superintendent Keith Hayashi during the live-streamed ceremony. “It’s important that we pause and take the time to recognize and appreciate the outstanding work that all of our 13,000 teachers do every day. You are prime examples of how a teacher’s influence on a student can transcend beyond the classroom and beyond the K-12 timeline.”
Today’s Teacher of the Year ceremony included monetary awards to each Complex Area and Public Charter School Teacher of the Year by The Polynesian Cultural Center—the Teacher of the Year program’s corporate sponsor for over 30 years—and an additional $1,000 award to the State Teacher of the Year.
“We’re grateful that you’re the role models for our children,” Gov. Josh Green told the finalists. “I appreciate your heart, because we all know the sacrifices teachers make. It’s a great challenge and you’re making Hawai’i a more extraordinary place.”
Ilaban teaches preschool through grade three students, and now also coaches teachers and students as a curricular coordinator for Kahakai Elementary. She is the only National Board Certified Teacher on campus and consistently applies the board-certified framework in her approach to mentoring fellow teachers.
“I have had the pleasure of witnessing Jennifer’s exceptional teaching abilities and unwavering commitment to students, colleagues and the success of our school,” wrote Kahakai Elementary School Principal Kori Takaki in her nomination letter to the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee. “I can attest to her exceptional skills, dedication and passion for education.
“Jennifer is an excellent teacher who consistently goes above and beyond to ensure the success of students,” Takaki added. “She is not only knowledgeable and skilled in her subject matter, but she also possesses a unique ability to connect with students on a personal level. And I am confident that she will continue to make a significant impact at our school and in the field of education.”