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Kanoelani Principal Lauded For Goal-setting

Kaneolani Elementary School faculty and staff staged a surprise schoolwide celebration April 10 for their principal, Stacie Kunihisa, who is the Leeward District's nominee for 2013-2014 National Distinguished Principal of the Year. Photo from Walleen Hirayama.

Kaneolani Elementary School faculty and staff staged a surprise schoolwide celebration April 10 for their principal, Stacie Kunihisa, who is the Leeward District’s nominee for 2013-2014 National Distinguished Principal of the Year. Photo from Walleen Hirayama.

Kanoelani Elementary School principal Stacie Kunihisa began her teaching career not in the classroom, but in a bathtub.

“My mother was a teacher, so I would play in the bathtub with the bubbles and pretend they were students. I think it was just the role modeling, just wanting to make a difference in the kids’ lives,” she recalled, laughing.

Over the span of her 21 years working in the Central and Leeward school districts, Kunihisa found that as much as she enjoyed teaching and working directly with students, sometimes helping them was more a matter of helping their teachers. She transitioned from high school English teacher to statewide resource teacher.

“When I became a resource teacher, I thought, ‘Wow, this is exciting, I’m helping teachers,’ which means I’m multiplying my effects. Not that it’s a great effect, but at least whatever positive comes out of it can be given to other kids,” Kunihisa said.

The next step was administration, and Kunihisa has embraced it.

“It’s exciting that one decision (as an administrator) can help support all the teachers, as opposed to just one teacher or two teachers,” she said.

And she must be making the right decisions – Kunihisa was recognized as the Leeward district’s nominee for 2013-2014 National Distinguished Principal of the Year. The award is sponsored by Hawaii Elementary and Middle School Administrators’ Association, the local arm of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Although Salt Lake Elementary School’s Duwayne Abe was ultimately chosen as the state’s No. 1 principal at a late-April luncheon, Kunihisa is happy to stay focused on Kanoelani.

Amid a number of new initiatives – a revamped special education program is on tap for next year – she’s also big on students becoming self-directed learners. Kanoelani encourages students to set goals for improvement on the Hawaii State Assessment, and Kunihisa reports seeing students ecstatic when they are able to study and exceed their own expectations.

“(I want to push) goal-setting for themselves and striving to become better people so that it’s not necessarily a teacher’s desire or even my desire – it becomes their own,” she explained.

She also is happy with the school’s focus on “filling the bucket,” a business model-turned-children’s book by Carol McCloud that advocates kind actions that help “fill someone else’s bucket” while discouraging bullying and other behaviors that empty it.

It’s a “huge” part of Kanoelani culture, Kunihisa said.

“It’s spreading into the community, this notion that you have an effect on everybody else in this world. It’s not just living in your isolated bubble all day long.”

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