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2021 Hawai'i ACTE Award Winner - Teacher of the Year

​​Teacher of the Year

This award recognizes the finest career and technical teachers at the middle/secondary school level who have demonstrated innovation in the classroom, commitment to their students and dedication to the improvement of CTE in their institutions and communities.

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Justin Brown

Teacher, Kealakehe High School

Justin Brown consistently remains at the edge of innovation within the career education ecosystem. In addition to his roles and responsibilities as a CTE Coordinator, he is the director of the first career academy at his school, lead advisor to over a dozen student organizations, maintains a full teaching line, and (before pandemic) travels over 100 days/year to conferences, trainings, and competitions with his students.


To expand opportunities, he frequently seeks grants and partnerships bringing in well over $100,000 in external funding annually. He founded the nationally recognized robotics, research, and rocketry teams at his school. Over the last 12 years, his teams have earned over 30 advancements to national or international level competitions.


To provide greater access to non-traditional students in engineering, he has more than doubled the number of girls in the advanced engineering classes in the last two years reaching almost 50/50 gender parity. He has helped students translate this success into personal post-secondary opportunities writing for over $1,000,000 in student scholarships annually. He mentored 4 Hawaii “Deans List” winners since 2015. His students frequently win top honors at engineering and design competitions including a recent Regeneron STS winner, the first in his school’s history.

Recommendation from Sarah Weir (Parent)

It is an absolute pleasure to recommend Justin Brown for ACTE Teacher of the year; he has changed not only the educational path of my four children, but elevated the level of education in our entire community. I was initially introduced to Justin in 2016 because our oldest daughter begged to go to Mr. Brown’s summer project-based learning camp with her friends. We were thrilled at her interest and relieved we were able to enroll all four of our kids because of scholarships he offered. This week-long camp was packed with engaging activities. Justin’s energy was incredible. His enthusiasm was completely contagious, and further confirmed by the student mentors who were clearly thriving in his programs. Each day we would come to pick up our kids and marvel at the quality of the projects they were working on and the resources they were given. To see 150 children of varying ages, organized, inspired and focused was astonishing. 

Recommendation from Shaun Roth (Business Partner, Parent)

We first met when I became the volunteer robotics coach at Holualoa Elementary School. At the time Justin was coaching the Kealakehe High School robotics team. He brought high school students to elementary schools throughout our area to mentor the younger students. The high school students taught the elementary students the Stanford Design Thinking process and helped with troubleshooting. His student team would also host scrimmage matches and host district tournaments.

In 2016 our eldest son enrolled in the first class of the new STEM Academy that Justin Brown created at Kealakehe High School. In addition to traditional classes the STEM Academy students were presented with an incredible variety of projects and activities. They participated in Science Olympiad, built ROV robots, launched rockets, earned their Ham Radio licenses, built escape rooms, and built an outdoor classroom. Under Justin’s leadership a culture was established where STEM students have a home and sense of belonging in the largest high school on the island.

STEM Academy doesn’t just start in high school. Justin created a STEM scaffold in West Hawaii that starts in the elementary schools. At Astro Day the high school students led hands on science exhibits for a mostly elementary school audience. At GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) the high school robotics girls would teach 5th grade girls how to solder and build connections. At the annual STEM Camp, STEM Academy high school students run a week-long day camp for students 3rd through 8th grade. Here the student mentors provide an important step between the younger students and adult teachers. The take away for the younger students is that they say, “I can see myself doing this in a few years.”

The level of achievement by the STEM Academy students lifted up the entire school. It made very clear that with the right leadership a public school can compete with anybody.

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