Oahu educator named Hawaii’s Teacher of the Year

  • Lori Kwee

  • Elaine Higa

  • Ashley Oyama

  • Annette McComber

Hawaii’s 2021 Teacher of the Year has been named.

The honor, presented annually by the Hawaii State Department of Education, was done via a virtual ceremony Friday for the first time in history. Lori Kwee, a fourth grade teacher at Ala Wai Elementary, was recognized as the state’s top educator.


“Lori fosters student leadership by helping her students to discover their talents and genius in relevant community-based projects,” Ala Wai Elementary principal Michelle DeBusca said in a statement. “She and her students have inspired other students, educators and community partners in their journey to truly make a difference in our world.”

Kwee, a teacher within the department for more than 30 years, was selected from a group of 16 finalists among the more than 13,000 educators: 15 named Teacher of the Year in each complex area and one finalist from charter schools.

Representing the Big Island are three educators.

Each of the three was quick to share the credit for being named Teacher of the Year in their respective complex.

Ashley Oyama is a fourth grade teacher at Konawaena Elementary, a school she also attended as a student. She represents the Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena complex.

“I am just a small part of Konawaena Elementary School, where I am so proud to represent…” Oyama said. “Most importantly, being in this role means I have made a lot of mistakes; it also means that from those mistakes, I have learned to adapt and adjust to what’s going on right in front of me. Every day, I try to be better than I was the day before.”

Annette McComber is the inclusion preschool teacher at Keaukaha Elementary, representing the Hilo-Waiakea complex.

“Success in this journey cannot be the credit of just one, but an accomplishment of many,” McComber said. “It means that a student, this student, has come full-circle from a frustrated childhood education experience to professional job experience that intentionally kept her far from the classroom. Back in the classroom setting as a scared adult learner, then into the classroom, her classrom, as a teacher.”

Finally, Elaine Higa is a literary resource teacher in the Hawaii District Office, representing the Kau-Keaau-Pahoa complex.


“This award is more than just one person, more than just me,” Higa said. “This honor goes to all those who have taught me and continue to teach me what is required to be in this profession. I wouldn’t be able to do this work without my fellow colleagues, the support and guidance that our administrators provide and the partnerships that we have with other organizations.”

Moving forward, Kwee will represent Hawaii in the upcoming National Teacher of the Year program in Washington, D.C.

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