Department of Education

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kevin Matsunaga

 

Kevin Matsunaga of Lihu‘e, Kaua‘i, never imagined he’d follow in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher. He found his calling as the digital media teacher at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihu‘e. His students have won many national video competitions. In 2007, the Hawai‘i Department of Education recognized Matsunaga with a District Teacher of the Year award.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 15, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 19, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kevin Matsunaga Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Our kids have to deal with a lot more nowadays. They can’t make mistakes like we could. You know, with social media, if they make a mistake it’s film that’s put out there, and it’s, you know, hard for them. But they’re also the most tech-savvy people that we have. You know, the kids that are going to want to put in the work are gonna do it. I do see it’s kind of a shift in where you don’t have as many that maybe want to do the work. This whole millennial thing in which people are lazy and things like, that I mean, I see some of it. Luckily, the kids that I work with, you know, they want to be there, they’re interested in this, and it’s easy for me to kinda push them, because they want to be there. That makes a huge difference.

 

It isn’t just by luck that Kevin Matsunaga has students in his digital media classes who want to be there, and who want to excel. His dedication, encouragement, and belief in his middle school students have a lot to do with why they win national student video competitions. Kauai public school teacher Kevin Matsunaga, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kevin Matsunaga was a teacher’s son who had no intention of becoming a teacher. But life happens. Trained on Oahu, he serves today as a teacher and technology coordinator at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihue. At the time of our conversation in December of 2016, he was well into his sixteenth year of teaching there, an award-winning digital media teacher, and he’s a leader in the statewide teachers’ steering committee which advises Hiki No, PBS Hawaii’s groundbreaking student news network. When he was a boy, his father saw that he was good at organizing and taking care of his younger cousins at family gatherings. Yet, the idea of becoming a teacher never appealed to Matsunaga. In fact, there wasn’t much about school that he found interesting.

 

We lived in Lihue. In fact, you know, we actually still live there now. Life was really easy and simple. My father was an educator, so he knew all of my teachers. So that made it a little bit hard for me, ‘cause I was kinda more the kolohe one, tried to be, you know, class clown or whatever. But it was nice. You know, back then, I could get on my bike, and that was my freedom. I could go anywhere I wanted to, and my parents didn’t really seem to mind too much.

 

No cell phones.

 

No cell phones, no GPS tracker, no call in to Mom to let you know. And as long as I was home by six, it was fine. If I was late, then there would be a problem with my dad, ‘cause he was the one that cooked.

 

So, he wanted you there for dinner.

 

He wanted me there for dinner. Yeah; ‘cause my mom worked at the hospital in the evening shift, so she was gone from three to eleven. And so, my dad was the one that, you know, when we came home school, he was the one making sure we had our homework done, made sure we took a bath.

 

Your dad was of Japanese ancestry.

 

Yes.

 

Your mom was from Brooklyn, New York.

 

Yes.

 

Irish woman.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that work? How did those cultures mesh with you?

 

I guess I consider myself more Asian, I guess, in the sense that we lived in Hawai‘i. My mom was considered like a Haole in the sense that, you know, she came from the mainland. But she really took to the local ways. She really saw the aloha spirit. And so, whenever we would go to family get-togethers, my mom would always be one to help out; she would never sit. Even if it wasn’t at our house, she would always get up, and always help out and wash dishes, you know, put things away. And so, I think our family saw that, and you know, she really embraced that sense of ‘ohana and aloha. I think she was wonderful as a mother.

 

You said later, you came to appreciate your dad more.

 

My dad, it was pretty, you know, black and white. You know, if we didn’t do something, if a teacher called us for any reason, it was … I don’t care what you have to say, if your teacher had to take the time to call me about something, you know, you’re doing something wrong. And so, it was tough, and back then, I really didn’t understand what they were doing. I just felt it as being real constrictive and overbearing. And you know, when I was in high school, I had a curfew. And I had a girlfriend who could stay out longer than I could. So, it’s kind of embarrassing to have to tell the girlfriend, I gotta go home, ‘cause I gotta meet my curfew. But only when I became an adult and had my own kids, then I kinda realized, you know, that what they were doing was a good thing. You know, kept me from trouble, and made me responsible.

 

You have teenagers now.

 

I do. And, yes … seeing what what they did for me, you know, at the time I didn’t appreciate it. And in fact, my relationship with my father was kinda rough when I was in high school, just because he valued education a lot, ‘cause he was an educator. And I was more of the ones that, you know, I was happy with getting a C, I was happy with being the lower one in the class in the top class, but not really pushing myself too much. ‘Cause I was more worried about who I was gonna go out with on the weekend, or what my friends were gonna do.

 

I would think that when a son goes into the same profession as his father, I think people tend to think, Oh, of course, you know, you wanted to do that from the beginning. Did you?

 

No. Growing up, I was always the one that seemed to have to take care of my younger cousins. So, we’d have a party, a family get-together, and our family was pretty large. My dad had several brothers and sisters. And so, we would have these large gatherings, and I had younger cousins, and I would always seem to be the one that was kinda taking care of them, making up games, keeping them occupied while the adults did their thing. And so, I just enjoyed that; I just enjoyed playing with them, kinda connecting with them, and just trying to keep them entertained, I guess. And so, it was my father, though; he was the first to say, Hey, you know, I’ve noticed that you really work well with kids, and so, you might want to think about being a teacher. I didn’t really find myself, as far as you know, taking school seriously until I was in college. It wasn’t until my second year in college in which I though, Okay, like, I can’t fool around. This is my parents’ money, and this is my life I gotta deal with. And and I had always wanted to make them proud. And so, I just always wanted to kinda, you know, make them happy. And so, I think once I started buckling down, started getting better grades, and taking it seriously, then our relationship changed, you know, much better. Yeah.

 

‘Cause he took your behavior really personally.

 

Yeah. And I think he always knew that I had what it took to do well, but I just didn’t apply myself. And I kind of feel the same way, too, with my kids. If I don’t see them trying hard, I get upset. And so, I’m kind of similar. It’s like, even though we try not to be our parents, we somehow still do become them.

 

Right.

 

Kevin Matsunaga took a teaching job on Oahu as soon as he earned his degree in elementary education from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Wanting to look out for his father after his mother died brought him back to Kauai.

 

Once I was in the College of Ed, I got a job at the A-Plus program at Hokulani Elementary School behind the dorms. And I loved it. I loved, you know, interacting with them. And I kinda knew that, okay, I think this is what I want to do.

 

And you met and married, along the way.

 

Yeah. So, my wife was actually my boss in the A-Plus program. And I was her aide. I taught on Oahu for seven years, and that’s kinda like towards the end is where things happened with our family. And in 2000, we moved back to Kauai, and I was able to open a brand new middle school that was, you know, coming on board. And so, I got to be there from the very beginning and kinda helped shape how things were at the school.

 

And Chiefess Kamakahelei is a very interesting middle school, for those who are used to old school buildings, because everything about it is really built with middle-schoolers in mind.

 

We have different houses for each grade level. And if you go into the sixth grade house, there’s less planters, because kids as sixth-graders, they just want to move around. You go to the eighth grade house, they have a lot more planters, places for kids to sit, because eighth-graders just want to sit and hang, and talk story, or go on their devices. And so, yeah, our school, you know, they took a lot of feedback from a lot of people in how middle-schoolers act, and what kind of space they need, and they put it into the school. So, you know, here seventeen years later, it still looks fantastic. We have an awesome staff that keeps it looking like a new school. And when we have visitors for the first time, they often ask, Is this a private school? We do have, you know, quite a bit of the population that needs some assistance.

 

At what point did digital media kick in with you?

 

When I applied for the job, the principal, Maggie Cox, at the time—she’s a board member for the Board of Ed now. But she knew this was gonna be the school that everyone was gonna look at for technology. So, she said in the interview, I want a morning announcements show, I want it live, I want it live TV. So, instead of, you know, when we were going up to school, you had, you know, someone coming on the PA system, playing the bells, you know.

 

Ding-ding-ding.

 

Yeah.

 

And so, she wanted it on TV. She had seen other schools do it, and so, that was one of the requirements. And I was like, Sure, I can do that. But I really hadn’t done that up to that point. I had worked with kids creating videos at my other school, but nothing was live. And so, I was like, Okay, I gotta figure out how to do this. I love computers and gadgets, and so as a teacher, I always tried to bring in some sort of technology aspect into it. So, I had my students—they had pen pals in Florida, you know, at that time through email. We did all kinds of things. And so, this was one thing that we did. And I was sharing this project at a technology conference that the DOE used to sponsor, and across from us, across from my booth was a high school that had set up their things, and they had videos. So, I’m sitting there across the way, and I’m watching these videos. And like, they’re really, really good. And like, Waianae High School, you know; wow, they’re doing some really awesome stuff. And so, I struck a conversation up with Candy Suiso. And at that time, I wasn’t really doing a lot of digital media. I just thought, Wow, that’s really cool, what they’re doing. But we just hit it off, and when this job came on, when they said, Hey, you gotta teach this live, or you gotta have this live morning announcement show, the first person I thought of to go for help was Candy. And so, I contacted her, and she allowed me to come out and visit the program. And that’s where I got a lot of good advice, took it back to our school. At that time, I only taught an advisory class, and that class kinda ran the morning announcements, and I asked to teach one elective class. And so, that was the beginning of our media program. And then, back then, we just, you know, were doing PSAs, small kinds of videos in school. And Candy created their first, like, workshop for teachers and students. And so, she, of course, you know, let me know about it. And what we did was, I took two students to Oahu one summer, and we went to one of their first camps. And she gave us, at this camp, this binder with all of these awesome, you know, lessons in them, activities. And I kinda treated that as my digital media bible, and I used that for years and tried to, you know, supplement it with my own. Kept in contact with Candy. And she was the reason why, you know, I kinda credit her a lot with our success, because she was very, very open with sharing anything that she had to help another teacher. And so, I’ve tried to take that example and lead that same way, by giving, you know, anything that I have to any other teacher that’s starting out.

 

So, there was nothing official to pick up off a shelf.

 

There was nothing.

 

Or link to.

 

We had nothing. You know, it was just a handful of teachers that were doing a lot with digital media. And we just helped each other. You know, we all just shared what we had, things that worked with us, things that didn’t.

 

Isn’t that interesting. And now, your group, which is called the Hawai‘i Creative Media Group, is teaching other teachers on all islands.

 

Yeah.

 

It’s a formalized group now.

 

Yeah.

 

Outside the DOE, but still very active in helping DOE teachers.

 

Yes. And you know, every single person on our team is just hugely talented. I mean, you know, they just know so much.

 

What do they have in common? I mean, because when you see digital media teachers in Hawai‘i, it’s not like you can stereotype them. Not by age, or anything else. What would you say is the common denominator?

 

I think the common denominator is that each one of us is dedicated to our programs. I mean, I think, like any successful program—and it could be a band, you know, that has an amazing instructor.

 

Needs leadership.

 

Yeah, you need leadership. And I think that’s where all of us—what we all have in common is that we really, truly care about our students, and giving them the best opportunities that we can provide them. Going above and beyond what’s called for in the school day to mentor them after school, on weekends, or setting up programs like our camps. Each person is just dedicated, you know, beyond measure. Everyone is just focused on how they can help their kids. And they don’t do that for themselves. You know, they don’t put their name out. It’s for the kids. And so, I think you need people like that to have a successful program.

 

It wasn’t long before Kauai’s Kevin Matsunaga started entering his students in national video competitions. This required a new level of commitment, and skills and efforts that went beyond the classroom.

 

If you’re gonna take your students to STN, or Student Television News, the really ambitious competition nationally, you have to raise money to do it. I mean, parents don’t have money to take their kids to the Northeast, or wherever it’s gonna be. And there are other neighbor island competitions. How do you get the money to do all of that?

 

We have to fundraise.

 

How do you do that?

 

You assemble a dedicated group of parents. You know, you work with them from the very beginning. You explain, okay, this is what we do, this why we do it, and here’s where we want to go; but I can’t do it by myself. I need support, I need parents to help work, you know, craft fairs, or you know, our breakfast, or sell cookbooks. You know. You just need to have a large number of people that are behind you. And for us, we’re really lucky; we have really good parents that, you know, understand what their child gets out of the program, and so they’re willing to put in that work. And it’s a year-round thing. I mean, we start fundraising when we come back. We’re already planning what we’re doing in the summer, for next year.

 

How much money do you have to raise, say, just for the Student Television News competitions?

 

It used to cost about fifteen hundred at the lowest, up to like, twenty-eight hundred at the highest. It just kinda depends.

 

Per student?

 

Per student. And so, last year, since we went to Atlanta and New York, it was probably close to like, twenty-five hundred a student. This year, surprisingly, it’s close to that. Because we’re in LA, but then, nobody wants to drive in LA. You know. And so, we have to rent a bus, and buses are expensive. So, you know, a day in a bus, you know, is several hundred dollars. And we’re staying at hotels that are two hundred a night, you know. And so, yeah, there are cheaper places that we could go to, you know, like the convention hotel. Even the convention hotel is two hundred a night. And so, it adds up. And so, yeah, we have to raise a huge amount of money.

 

So, you’re teaching digital media like nobody’s business, and then there’s this other operation which you’re also part of, which is just generating funds.

 

It’s like I’m a professional fundraiser, almost. You know. ‘Cause we’re going from thing to thing. We’ve done carwashes, we had a golf tournament, we just had our breakfast this past weekend. And we’ve done craft fairs. Our digital media, Hawaii Creative Media created a cookbook this year.

 

I mean, so your weekends are pretty much gone for that; right?

 

A lot of times; yeah. And so, unfortunately, you know, my family has had to kinda take some of that on. But all of my kids have been in through my program, so they understand why it’s so important, so they don’t give me a hard time.

 

Your students need to perform quality work in a, quote, foreign city, on deadline. And no excuses. You know, no dog ate your homework; it’s all about here’s the deadline, if you fail to get it in, if your computer didn’t render quickly enough, too bad.

 

It’s probably the most authentic assessment that you can ever find. You know, the DOE talks about trying to get authentic assessment. But these competitions, I don’t think you can find anything better than that. Yeah, like you said, the students, they have to perform, they have to be ready, they have to problem-solve if something happens. They have to navigate their way around a city that they’ve never been in, they have to go and find a story on a topic that they were just given that morning, and they only have a few hours to get it done.

 

And they have to depend on each other to do the work.

 

Exactly.

 

So, everybody’s important.

 

Exactly.

 

And you have to put things aside if you have issues.

 

Yes. And sometimes, those lessons take a while to learn, but they get there at some point. But yeah, it’s all of those things. I tell my parents and my students that, you know, digital media, yes, that’s the name of our class, but we really teach a lot of life skills. You know, how to communicate with each other, how to get along with other people that, you know, you may have a hard time with. Meeting your deadlines, and being prepared for your interview, and having your equipment read, and you know, all those things.

 

Talking with adults, and setting up interviews.

 

Yeah. You know, we fully believe in that, you know, we need to teach them what they’re gonna see. And so, when the deadline, when the clock hits zero, even if you’re five feet away and you’re ready to put your flash drive into the bucket, it’s gone and you’ve lost that chance, ‘cause you didn’t make that deadline.

 

And an amazing thing happens, and it was chronicled in this documentary that PBS Hawai‘i did about your schools going to Atlanta for the competition. The Hawai‘i kids all sat together from different schools, and they cheered for each other, even when they themselves were up for the same award, and lost.

 

Exactly; yeah. It’s something we started, you know, a couple of years back in which … you know, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly that is, other than that’s just the aloha spirit, and … you can just see it, you can feel it. All of our schools, we all know, and the other schools know that, too. But for those of us in Hawai‘i, we understand it’s really hard to get there, because we have to travel, no matter where it is. We have to raise money, and you know, get your paperwork approved by the district. And you go through all of these hoops to get there, so we understand how much work is involved. And I think there’s just the respect that we have for one another that, you know, when we get there … if we don’t win, but Hawai‘i wins, it’s still a win. And I think that’s just the culture here in Hawai‘i.

 

And the middle school PSA contest winner for 2016 is Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.

 

Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i …

 

I think it’s fascinating to think about, because so many people here think, Well, you know, our public schools, they’re criticized for being mediocre.

 

M-hm.

 

And some of these top-performing digital media teams are coming from low-income schools or isolated schools.

 

Exactly.

 

How do you explain that?

 

They have good teachers. They have dedicated teachers that are willing to put in that extra effort, that believe in the kids, and will do anything to help them succeed. I mean, look at Waianae; Searider Productions is a prime example. You know, that community is known for so many other things. You know, the negative, the homelessness, and everything else. But they’ve totally broken that stereotype down, you know, by the success that they have. And it’s because it started with Candy, you know, and what she believed in, this idea to use digital media in her Spanish class. And then, it came down to her students, John Allen, who—

 

Took over for her.

 

Who is there, yeah.

 

As a teacher.

 

Was a former student, who totally, you know, bought into it, saw what it did for him, and he wanted to do the same for others. And so, you gotta have that person that’s willing to be that dedicated person that is willing to put in those extra hours.

 

Even though it’s often not even a regular class. You’re doing it after school.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Or in between other projects, summers. Is there something really inspiring or life-changing that you’ve seen happen in your classes?

 

I think the thing that inspires me more than anything is just seeing that change in a child. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I became a teacher, is because I like to see change. You know, so in my spare time, I like to weed in the yard, because I can see the progress that I’ve made, or the progress I haven’t. But I like to see that progress, and teaching does that. Because you can work with a child, put in this effort, and you can see before your eyes them, you know, getting it. You know, that spark; Oh, I got it now, I understand what you’re trying to say. And then, you see them apply that. That, to me, is inspiring. I mean, that’s the kinda stuff that keeps me coming in every day and being a hundred percent committed, is because you see this change, and you see the kid that started with you who could barely say any words outside, wouldn’t talk to you unless you asked a specific question, and then to see them grow in the time that you have them to where they’re a confident, you know, young person willing to speak to anyone. I mean, that’s the stuff that’s inspiring, more than anything else. I think that every teacher uh, every digital media teacher pushes their kids to try to be great. And that transforms itself into other areas that the kids are working in. And I think that prepares them just for life in general.

 

That cuts across everything, then.

 

It cuts across anything. I think it doesn’t matter whether it’s in school, outside of school, in their personal private life. I think just knowing that you have someone who believes in you, that wants you to do well and is not gonna let you settle for anything less than great.

 

Teacher Kevin Matsunaga’s goal for his students is not to win contests; it’s do their best. Their best often wins local and national awards. And Matsunaga has been recognized as the State Public School District Teacher of the Year. Mahalo to Kevin Matsunaga of Lihue, Kauai for your innovative teaching example, and your commitment to students year, after year, after year, preparing them for life and the workforce. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Every day is different. There are no two days that are gonna be the same. Even if you have the same students every single day, the kids are gonna come in, and some days they might have a great day, some days they may not. You know, you’re teaching different subjects, you’re teaching different things, and … that’s what I love best about teaching, is that every single day is different. If I got stuck in a job in which I did the same thing day-in and day-out, not too much change, it would be hard for me.

 

 


HIKI NŌ
Episode #808 – Teachers of the Year

 

Of the eight Hawai‘i Department of Education District Teachers of the Year for the 2016-2017 school year, two are HIKI NŌ teachers: Luane Higuchi from Wai‘anae Intermediate School (Leeward District), and Jennifer Suzuki from Maui Waena Intermediate School (Maui District). Both teachers discuss what the District Teacher of the Year honor means to them, and the impact HIKI NŌ has had on them and their students.

 

This program encores Saturday, Jan. 14 at 12:00 pm and Sunday, Jan. 15 at 3:00 pm. You can also view HIKI NŌ episodes on our website, www.pbshawaii.org/hikino.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Gail Awakuni

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Gail Awakuni

 

Original air date: Tues., Mar. 11, 2008

 

National High School Principal of the Year 2004

 

A veteran public school teacher and DOE administrator, Gail Awakuni became principal at Campbell High School just before the school year began in 2000. The school was known for gang and discipline problems. It posted some of the lowest test scores and highest drop-out rates in the state. Fewer than half its students were graduating.

 

This year? The school says 99% of its seniors will earn diplomas. Test scores are way up. And Campbell High School is earning academic awards and accolades. What happened? We’re about to meet a petite and powerful agent of change named Gail Awakuni.

 

Gail Awakuni Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Something remarkable is taking place in Ewa Beach, at James Campbell High School. Seven years ago, the school was known for gang and discipline problems. It posted some of the lowest test scores and highest drop-out rates in the state. Fewer than half its students were graduating. This year? The school says 99% of its seniors will earn diplomas. Test scores are way up. And Campbell High School is earning academic awards and accolades. What happened? We’re about to meet a petite and powerful agent of change named Gail Awakuni.

 

A veteran public school teacher and DOE administrator, Gail Awakuni became principal at Campbell High School just before the school year began in 2000. Within four years, she’d been named State Principal of the Year and went on to top national honors.

 

Pat Hamamoto, Schools Superintendent (at Campbell High School, Sept. 24, 2004)

“I would like to announce that Dr. Awakuni is the Nat’l. High School Principal of the Year 2004. Her vision was to create a school in which students would be welcomed, students would be cared for and students would go out with the knowledge and skills that they would need to be successful. And Dr. Awakuni, your principal, started with a plan and she actually put all this to action.”

 

She says no need to call her Doctor. Many of the students simply call her Miz. Gail Awakuni’s plan and actions have led to tremendous changes in attitudes and achievement at Campbell High School. Ten years ago, the school says 10% of its students went on to college. Now, more than 70% do. Seven years ago, 30 students took College Board Advanced Placement exams. This year, nearly 400 will. Let’s meet Gail Awakuni, the principal – and principal mover and shaker – of Campbell High School.

 

This is amazing, isn’t it? It’s like this explosion of success and achievement at Campbell in the last few years.

 

Few years; right.

 

Since you’ve been there. I need to explore this more with you. Because I know that there are lots of committed principals and other educators in our schools, and I know they’re knowledgeable, and I know they make use of opportunities. But you’ve been able to marshal so many things together to make this happen. What is it about you?

 

I don’t think it’s about me. It really is about the students and people at the school level who are willing to just put forth a lot of work and effort, and make the school better. And I think that’s the rallying point that we have, you know, going for us, where you take a negative reputation, and you turn that into something positive. And that has been, you know, our mantra. So whenever we have a setback, then we just—Okay, let’s move forward and move forward in how we’re gonna fix this to make it better. And we’re by no way a perfect school. You know, we have our share of problems, and we haven’t we haven’t fixed all of the problems in the community there, and I don’t think we ever will. But we do try to take one child at a time and try to help each child, or try to better the situation for them.

 

So what’s—

 

And we’re still working at it.

 

What’s the limit? Where does the gate on the achievement clang down?

 

I don’t think it ever ends. I think it’s a continuous, spiraling effect of continually trying to be better and improve. Once—I think like all civilizations, where they reach a point where they feel like they, they’ve reached it or, you know, have reached the point where they can just sit back and relax; and I think that’s when civilizations crumble again.

 

So you see no limits?

 

So there’s no limit. We just keep on moving forward, and keep on you know, improving what we’re doing.

 

What’s the toughest thing to change?

 

I think the toughest thing to change is changing mindsets and attitudes.

 

On the part of?

 

People.

 

Any person involved in the school?

 

Any person. I think that is the most difficult. Also, having people believe in themselves, and having confidence, developing the confidence to excel and to be the best that they can be. So everybody is their own worst enemy. Changing mindsets; that’s the most difficult.

 

Changing mindsets.

 

Mindsets. But you know, it’s possible when we see the successes. So everybody likes to see success and build on positive, positive results. And I think that’s the key; to look at the results, and keep on climbing and keep on working at those results, to see that we can better ourselves.

 

For students in the academic middle, Principal Gail Awakuni spearheaded the AVID program – offering Advancement Via Individual Determination. She also established Small Learning Communities – academies within the school which educate students along the pathways of their chosen careers.

 

We all talk about metrics, in business. The metrics, the measurements, the quantification of education; there are a lot of really encouraging signs and transformations at Campbell High School. What are some of them?

 

Well, we use the data to actually start our work. Because was our assessment and to see where we’re at, and how we’re gonna go, and where. And every time we the reason why I measured the growth was to encourage and motivate everybody to keep on going. Because when they say success breeds success, that really is true. Because with our little successes, that is how we grew, and it got bigger and bigger. And each time we were pleasantly surprised.

 

What caused that? What happened?

 

School wide reform. We decided to focus on the ninth grade, and we contracted Johns Hopkins University to help us.

 

Where’d you get the money to do that?

 

We used our school money from our Federal funds, as well as the State funding, and we wrote grants. Lots of grants, those beginning years. So we did start off with a planning grant, which was a Federal grant. And it took us a year to plan and make our plan what we were gonna do. And then the second year was implementation; then we went out and we got a small learning community implementation grant. So those monies helped to quick start us. We also had donations from the community; James Campbell Estate, for example, was you know, very much behind of us. They gave us a check for $150,000 to get started.

 

So you organized the school into small learning communities.

 

M-hm.

 

And what else?

 

And so we started the ninth grade, then we replicated the tenth grade academy. And the upperclassmen were the small learning communities into their electives. And we measured, and we watched the growth of our students. Also too, competitions help. So from the community there, as well as the Department of Education where there are State and National contests. Then we started preparing our students for these contests. And then when they started winning, that was an extremely strong motivator. For example, in 2004, when our math team won the statewide math bowl—

 

The first time a Leeward Oahu school had ever won the math bowl.

 

And also, first time for Campbell. And so that was you know, I think, one of the greatest incentives. It helped the students and the whole school to see, we can do it, and to forge forward, and each time they’re seeking you know, greater success or do better. It’s the measurement.

 

I want to know where this came from because clearly, there was your leadership at work. Where did you get this stuff? How did you set this transformation in place?

 

Well, it’s a lot of things going on, and I think we take a team of teachers as well as administrators to the mainland, where we go to national conferences, network with people. You know, outside of Hawaii.

 

So looking for ideas.

 

Looking for ideas, looking for research based models. Journals. Do a lot of reading.

 

‘Cause you only want something that’s proven.

 

Exactly. And then go on the internet and um, communicate through internet, find out more, and research these programs. We also do site visits. And so we visit schools and we see. And we go to schools of similar demographics as Campbell. And then we see how it’s operationalized, and we get a lot of help from people who have done it. For example, our international baccalaureate; we visited many schools, and we had curriculum leaders who had been doing it for twenty years successfully. And so they shared their curriculum, as well as their program and studies, and everything with us.

 

The transformative efforts at Campbell High are paying off – literally – for students. Over the last seven years, graduating seniors have brought in more and more scholarship money to fulfill dreams of college. Last year, scholarships amounted to $7.5 million. The school is introducing innovative programs like the International Baccalaureate Diploma. It’s an elite, college-prep program with an international focus. It’s designed to help students compete in a global society. And Gail Awakuni has every reason to be proud.

 

This is, you know, an accomplishment for us, because it’s your highest level of rigor. And so the teachers had to work really hard. And you have their lessons that are approved, as well as they’re given feedback from an international board. So when you look at standards and global education, it’s not limited to just Hawaii or not just, you know, the Department of Education in Hawaii. Whereas it’s international. And education is global today. So for the teachers to see what’s out there, as well as for our students; and we say, you know, there’s life beyond Renton Road, there’s life beyond Ewa Beach, there’s life beyond Hawaii, as well as even the United States now. They’re saying that you know, it’s international.

 

So you’ve raised the expectations for students and faculty.

 

And that’s really the bar. And so what it’s done was for the teachers to receive training as well as input, and feedback into the curriculum; then we backward map with the underclassmen and the other subject teachers, and everything else becomes aligned. So that now leads the staff development in the school, because they know what is the goal that they’re really trying to obtain, which is an international goal.

 

Okay, now; there’s something you’re leaving out here. Just implementing new programs doesn’t cause a rejuvenation, and it doesn’t get people excited. What else have you done?

 

I think for basically for the teachers, it’s you have to show them and prove to them that it can be done. So gradually, when we had the successes of our students, then more and more people get folded into and they want to be part of the excitement and the learning. For example, our incredible college and career counselor, as well as the setup that we have at our school with the aides and the helpers that she had too, each year, the scholarship amount doubled or tripled. It’s the first year, we had a goal of $1 million. And then we thought this was crazy; you know, that it would never happen. Because prior to that, we had scholarships of about $600,000. But each year, you know, they went out and they competed, and they—last year, the scholarship amount was $7.5 million.

 

So first, your staff competed to get scholarship money, and then your students—

 

The students—

 

–amped it up to get the scholarships.

 

Preparing the students for the scholarships as well as—there you go; competition, what’s out there. And so, looking and seeing what was needed. And then it was basically looking at the coursework, as well as the colleges now; what is it that students will need to be globally competitive.

 

So some of these students, they’ve never had anybody in their family go to college.

 

Right.

 

They don’t really know that they can succeed. But they are believers now that they can?

 

Absolutely. And we have a lot of first generation students going to college. And I think that’s you know, really the excitement that we see. And we have graduates coming back and telling us that—they’ll tell the parents that they’re earning more than their parents. That’s exciting.

 

And the parents like that to an extent, right?

 

The parents are you know, surprised too that they’ve done so well. And we’re very proud; very proud that they’ve done so well and gone on you know, to be successful.

 

So, great feeling of pride from your students.

 

So great feeling of pride. And they did want to, you know, turn the school around and help the—to them, it was we reached out into the community. So pride in the community, pride for themselves as the school.

 

How did you reach out into the community?

 

We had a Kellogg’s grant, and we reached out into the community by forming a nucleus committee, and we branched out and interviewed people in the community, asking them and getting feedback. What is it that you expected and wanted of the school? And so we had lists and lists of things that we grouped them. And that did not vary from what we had interviewed our teachers, as well as the support staff at our school. And so after we gathered that data, then we put it together, and then we made our plans and programs.

 

So you found that everybody really wanted the same thing.

 

Exactly. And so really, through the Kellogg’s grant and the National Network of Educational Renewal, through University of Washington, that helped us formalize—the mantra was, you know, the responsibility for education is everybody.

 

Team-oriented, results-oriented and positive. What motivates Gail Awakuni? Where do her ideas come from? Where did she come from?

 

You’re a product of the public schools?

 

Yes, I am. I’m a proud graduate of Kalani High School. I always tell the students that I’m from east side of Honolulu, and now I’m on the west side of Oahu.

 

Do they say they can’t relate to you ‘cause you’re an eastsider?

 

They call me a townie. Everybody teases me, and they call me a townie. But I said, Well, the way that Ewa is developing, that’s gonna be the future town of Oahu.

 

True. Well, what was your public school experience?

 

Well, I think that, as I recollect, and I compare past to now, I know that the public school is doing far more than what I’ve experienced. But it was always a very positive experience for me. I attended Kahala Elementary, then Kaimuki Intermediate, then Kalani, and UH system. So it’s been public education all the way.

 

And you never felt, Oh, gee, other folks have the chance to go to private school, but not me, I gotta go public?

 

Well, for us, it was not even a choice, because my parents couldn’t afford it, and they made it real clear that you know, they couldn’t afford it. So we just had to make the best of whatever we had. But I never felt.

 

But did you feel you were losing something?

 

No, I never felt that I was being shortchanged or anything. I still remember my teachers; they were you know, extremely caring. And I learned.

 

Although inspired by her teachers, Gail Awakuni didn’t plan on becoming one – until after she had finished college and started a family.

 

My mother told me to go into teaching. And of course, you know, being in college, I said, No, I’m not gonna listen to her, and then I majored in arts and science, and then it was, now what are you gonna do with this job. Because it’s either nursing or teaching. So I went back to school for teaching,

 

You not only went to school; you got a PhD.

 

Well, that just happened along the way. And it was just a matter of my daughter was going through chemotherapy; she was a leukemia patient at that time. So my friend had told me, I’ve got a wonderful program, just for you, to help you through this. And at that time, I got interested in public health. But at the same time, when I saw the impact of education with children, as well as families, where really, education is the key to even good health.

 

To even good health?

 

Good health. And so that’s when I felt that I needed to get back into teaching, and spread the word in that sense, where education really is the key to life.

 

So the hospital could have been aha moment for you to go into nursing, but instead, it sent you right back into education.

 

In teaching, you see hope and joy. And I think the hospital does that also. But at the same time, you see a lot of people go there when they have illness. Whereas in teaching, you see children, and you see bright smiles every day. And that’s what I felt. You know, I needed to be there, where I like to see bright smiles every day, and help people have hope and dreams, and be a part of creating that dream for them.

 

Did your daughter recover from leukemia?

 

My daughter recovered; she’s a leukemia survivor. And she’s planning to go into nursing today.

 

Oh, that’s interesting.

 

I had some great, great moments as a teacher. And when I moved into administration, I felt that here would be a way that I probably could impact more, and really do what I felt that we could help more students. And it goes back to what I had felt at the hospital; that it’s bringing access to people, and opening more doors, because really, education is the key. Being able to read and write, compute, think, ask questions, you know, those were key. And again, it’s how to reach a larger group of individuals, so that they—we always tell parents, you know, Education here, this is your life. And what we want for you and your child would be the best opportunity, so that you go out and have a good quality of life. And really, we’re here to help and to do.

 

Gotta ask you a question that you might not like. You’re a graduate of the public school system. You have been employed by the public system. And yet, you chose to send a couple of your children to private school.

 

M-hm. I think I’ve sent two to private and one went through the public school system. And I would say that, you know, I’ve learned from sending them to private school, as well as I think that I’ve brought some of those ideas with me, to the public sector, so that we can make our school just as good as a private school. ‘Cause I believe that access, you know, that everybody should have access. And I’d like to make Campbell, you know, just as good as a private school, so that parents will have a choice. And those who can’t afford a private education can have just as good an education at Campbell High School or in a public school. And I think, you know, it’s a lot of guidance from home that is necessary, and again, looking at the needs of the individual and finding the best fit.

 

You’ve seen some of the private schools, you’ve seen the public schools. You really think you can even things out?

 

I think we can. And that’s what we’re trying to do at Campbell. It’s really networking, and taking that and trying to make things, you know, better. And even when we were interviewed at Campbell with the international baccalaureate committee, you know, the question was, Why Campbell? And Superintendent Hamamoto said, Why not Campbell? You know, and that’s what it is; why not? And so we could have just as much, and do just as well as any private school.

 

Indeed. Why not? Here at PBS Hawaii, we get to share stories of discovery and diversity, of local, community interest. Like this one – of Campbell High School’s growing culture of high expectations and achievement. Mahalo to Gail Awakuni, and to you, for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Until next week, a hui hou kakou!

 

Pat Hamamoto / Schools Superintendent (at Campbell High School, Sept. 24, 2004)

“Dr. Awakuni has brought recognition to the school through you. So you helped her realize her vision. And you are her vision. In addition to that, this past year, Dr. Awakuni also received the Tokioka Award for outstanding school principal. When they asked her, What are you going to do if we give you $15,000? Her answer was, she would give it to the school to start the AVID Program. So whatever she gets it goes back to the school. So your principal has been not only a person with vision, but she’s also a person who made that vision come alive. And she made that vision a reality.”