February 8, 2014

Q&A with Elton Kinoshita, New Principal of Lanai High and Elementary School

Photo of Lanai school principal Elton Kinoshita.

Why did you take the principal position at Lanai High School and Elementary School?

I think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We have so many assets we can leverage to become better and be a top school in the state. Before Larry Ellison’s purchase, our graduates did not have as many options regarding career choices. With his plan for sustainability and controlled and intelligent development, our students can choose to remain here and still have viable careers.

What are the opportunities you see?

We have a nurturing community, a faculty and staff that care about our students, well-behaved students–things vital to further push rigor in our classrooms. We also have very few disciplinary problems. And students rate their teachers high on caring and give their teachers very positive ratings overall. We need to translate all of these strengths into academic achievement.

What is your biggest challenge(s) as principal?

One of the biggest challenges we face anytime we want to implement change is to create a vision for our school and the kind of culture we want to build, and to have everyone in our school community and extended community actively support it. As I mentioned, we have many assets but we need to leverage them to improve our performance. Our teachers should have high expectations for our students. We also need to make some structural improvements, including looking at our model for special education and supporting and integrating non-English speakers.

I saw this happen at Campbell High School. When I first arrived there, the community was proud of two things: the football team and their tough image. As our principal, Gayle Awakuni, worked with the school community to implement changes, the community saw results. We saw teachers feeling better, the community was proud of the school and success bred success. I know we can work together to bring about positive change here at Lāna‘i High and Elementary School.

What are your plans for the school?

I would like to see the school become the hub of the community. The school can be an important gathering place, a place where services and programs are accessible to everyone to support academic learning, community advancement, and the fostering of community connections.

We have some gaps we need to fill – for example, early childhood education. Right now, only 30 percent of kindergartners on Lana‘i have attended preschool. We need to increase that number.

I think we can build a framework comprising STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) content and programs. These will create high engagement, increase the rigor in classrooms, and develop critical thinkers who will be tomorrow’s global problem solvers. In addition, we live in a special place. We should never lose our sense of where we are and the connection to the past. I envision a strong Place-Based, Cultural Education program which permeates the culture of the school.

Has anything surprised you since you took on your new position?

I’ve been surprised by the interest from so many different groups to get involved and support us. We are grateful for the support that Pūlama Lāna‘i will provide but I wasn’t expecting other organizations like UH Maui to offer to help. This is very exciting and presents many new opportunities for us.

What should people know about you?

They should know that I am committed to Lāna‘i, our school, our children, parents and teachers. Some of my friends thought this was a good stepping stone job to other jobs down the road. My father, who grew up on Lāna‘i, told me that Lāna‘i is a very special place and if I took the job I needed to make sure I was committed. I took the time to make sure I had the right intentions.

We all have a huge opportunity before us. The pieces are all in place so if we don’t make the improvements I know we can, I don’t have an excuse.

How do you like life on Lanai?

This is the best place in the world. People drive slow — there’s a different pace here and it reminds me of growing up in Waialua in the sixties. I get to look out at open space and when I go home after work I hear the sounds of kids playing outside.

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