Monday | December 11, 2017
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Seven public schools welcome new principals

You won’t find any “Under New Management” signs hanging out front, but seven Hawaii Island public schools welcomed new principals as the academic year got underway this month.

New principals took the helms at Haaheo, Holualoa, Kalanianaole, Keaukaha, Naalehu, Pahoa and Waiakeawaena elementaries when the new school year kicked off. Four of those principals are taking the lead after previously serving as vice principals at other Big Island schools, while the others served as principals.

Meanwhile, four principal positions remained to be filled Monday morning among isle schools, said Larry Kaliloa, a regional personnel officer with the Hawaii Department of Education. Hilo Intermediate, Honokaa High & Intermediate, Kohala Middle, and Paauilo Elementary & Intermediate are each looking for a new principal to take the reins.

“The postings just closed Sunday, so now we’re waiting for applicants to send their information to us by the end of the week. Once we get that, we’ll be contacting them and doing interviews,” he said.

“Once we complete the interviews, if the complex area superintendents make a recommendation to Superintendent (Kahtryn) Matayoshi, she’ll normally answer within a day. The first Monday after she approves a recommendation is the first effective start date to put them in, so the earliest we could get (the new principals) in would be maybe (Sept.) 16.”

Until those positions are filled, the schools’ vice principals will fill in, or if none are available, a complex area superintendent may assign a vice principal from another school to temporarily take the reins until the job is filled, Kaliloa said.

On the subject of coming into a new school, Principal Brad Bennett said his priorities at Waiakeawaena during the first few weeks and months will be to build a level of trust and understanding with his faculty and students. Formerly a principal at Haaheo Elementary, Bennett said he’s excited to be at a new school.

“Whenever you take over a school as storied as Waiakeawaena, you want to hit the ground running,” he said. “The biggest part for me is earning the support and trust of the staff. They have to get to know you, how you work. While, at the same time, you have to set the direction and make sure they know what the expectations are of them.

“With the students, we want to establish a culture of trust and responsibility in the beginning. We want to see our teachers and students taking ownership of what happens here, and where we move as a school. Our teachers spend a lot of time on these relationships, and on sharing with their students.”

One way Bennett hopes to open up lines of communication between teachers and students has been an exercise known as “hoolauna.” Teachers take time to meet with each other, to sit and talk story, share their successes and challenges with each other, he said.

“I think it centers everybody a little more, and creates a culture where we can talk to each other in a civil way, and in a spirit of collaboration we work to try and solve problems,” Bennett said. “We’re being asked to do quite a bit by the (Department of Education) this year, and we need to work together to come up with solutions.”

Michelle Barber, who has taken her first posting as a principal at Haaheo Elementary, says she benefited greatly during the summer from meetings with other first-time principals on the island and training sessions aimed at helping new principals make the transition.

“It’s a way for us to be a support network for each other,” she said of the new principal academy. “When we met in July, it really helped us a lot. We had help making an entry plan. There’s so many things we have to do right, and it allowed us to get everything down on paper.”

Barber said that she has also benefited from being paired with retired principal Beverly McCall, former principal at Waiakeawaena, who serves as her mentor.

“She always has nuggets of information for me,” she said. “For example, when she looked at my first agenda, she said, ‘You might want to make sure the agenda fits on one page, so it’s not so overwhelming for the teachers,’” Barber recalled with a laugh.

The new principal added that keiki may be nervous on their first day of school, but it’s helpful for them to remember that they aren’t the only ones.

“My first day (as a principal), it felt like my first day teaching. I was a little nervous,” Barber said. “When I was going to be teaching for the first time, I had dreams before opening day, and this time I had dreams, too. But it was an awesome first day. … There are always new things, no matter what school you’re in, but if we work together, we can accomplish anything.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at