Excellence in education was honored today in the Senate Chambers as Senators recognized the Hawai‘i Department of Education’s (HIDOE) 2018 Teacher of the Year recipients. The Teacher of the Year award is part of a prestigious national program that honors teaching excellence, and the overall Hawai‘i State Teacher of the Year is chosen from one of the seven HIDOE districts and public charter school winners.

This year Vanessa Ching, from Ewa Makai Middle School, is named the 2018 State Teacher of the Year. Ching has taught in the HIDOE for 14 years. Besides teaching, Ching is also the Student Activities Coordinator, Year Book Advisor, and Green Program Coordinator at Ewa Makai Middle School. As a result of her students’ advocacy for a plastic-free Hawai‘i, Ewa Makai is the only school in Hawai‘i to have won the National Green Ribbon School certification. Ching says, “All we need is a belief in ourselves because when we have high expectations of ourselves and know that we can accomplish our goals, others will follow.”

The 2018 District Teachers of the Year are Amanda Fretto, Francine Hughes, Gregg Iha, Erika Kaneo, Del Onaga, Cristin Priolo, and Naomi Salaveria.

Amanda Fretto teaches at Kamakahelei Middle School on Kaua‘i, and she is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s in Educational Psychology. Fretto is described by a colleague as having the “heart of a lion and compassion to do what she does like no other.”

Francine Hughes is from the Maui District, and she is certified in Elementary Education with a Master’s in Educational Leadership. Hughes has 20 years of teaching experience and her shared leadership style successfully promotes collaboration and understanding of DOE initiatives.

Gregg Iha is the Central District winner and he initiated the “Six Pillars of Character” program for students and adults in the Mililani Complex. Iha lives by the creed: “Sometimes you lead by force of character, sometimes you lead with love, but always lead with honor and strength of character.”

The Hawai‘i District awardee is Erika Kaneo of Waiākeawaena Elementary. Kaneo works with 2nd and 3rd graders and she designs effective, differentiated and individualized instruction. She is described as a teacher “who believes in helping students and teachers at different levels to grow to their full potentials, while approaching problems as opportunities and that combination is a key to success.”

Del Onaga is the Windward District winner where he teaches at-risk youth at Olomana School. Onaga is a certified Career and Technical Education teacher in Industrial and Engineering Technology and he is the lead teacher for his school’s Engineering Academy. His teaching style is described as “a combination of quiet support and calm persistence of high expectations that allow his students to thrive.”

Cristin Priolo is the Public Charter Schools award recipient. Priolo has a Master’s and Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education and Special Education. She centers her teaching on the belief that students become passionate about learning when they are able to connect world issues to their own life experiences. One parent describes her as a “milestone person, someone unforgettable, who impacts you for a lifetime.”

Naomi Salaveria of Liholiho Elementary is the Honolulu District Teacher of the Year. Her passion is working with special education students with high needs, and she teaches students with multiple disabilities, including autism and orthopedic handicaps. Salaveria is also a volunteer at Shriner’s Hospital.





Phone: 808-586-6720

Hawaiʻi State Capitol

415 South Beretania Street

Honolulu, HI 96813

©2021 by Hawai'i State Senate