NIU VALLEY — Niu Valley Middle School Principal Laura Ahn was celebrated at a school assembly Friday for her recent recognition as the state’s 2022 Principal of the Year, a designation awarded by the Hawai‘i Association of Secondary School Administrators (HASSA).
HASSA annually honors a middle or high school principal who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and a strong commitment to their school’s students, staff and community. This rigorous selection process takes into consideration the administrator’s ability to foster a safe and productive campus culture; promote equity among students; make decisions based on data-driven needs; and empower students to become competitive, creative learners.
“On behalf of the entire Department of Education, we thank and congratulate Principal Laura Ahn. The recognition is a testament to her commitment to her students and supporting them in a variety of ways,” interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi said. “The environment that I see here at Niu Valley … is a culture of support for students.”
“I’m super grateful to be the Principal of the Year representing Hawai‘i,” Ahn stated. “What it means to our community is just beyond me. I’d love to share this award with our parents, with our students. We did this together.”
Ahn, who has been dubbed by her colleagues a “system-thinking principal,” assumed her principalship at a time when Niu Valley Middle School was experiencing challenges with teacher retention. The school had lost over 50% of its veteran teachers, which impacted student performance. Despite inheriting these difficult circumstances, the former Kalihi Uka Elementary School principal sought to stabilize and accelerate student learning.
“Principal Ahn should be commended for resetting the learning culture at Niu Valley Middle School,” said Justin Mew, principal of Kaiser High, Niu Valley’s complex area high school. “She supported [her teachers and staff leaders] with professional development, and created an environment for them to learn and practice safely.”
One example of how this support has manifested includes Ahn’s creation of Niu Valley’s Instructional Leadership Team (ILT). The ILT is composed of administrators, coordinators and teacher representatives of each subject area. This team meets regularly to assess essential classroom needs and develop strategies for the implementation of the school’s established academic plan, while keeping in mind considerations for the students, teachers and changing environment.
Ahn also established a Comprehensive Student Support System, which requires counselors, administrators and the student services coordinator to meet monthly and create individualized learning plans to address the academic needs of each student. She is often credited for her horizontal organization, which calls for more inclusive decision making. Ahn has even put together a small group of sixth-grade students who represent their peers and voice student concerns to her directly.
As part of Ahn’s award application, a Niu Valley Middle School parent noted that they appreciate that “Ms. Ahn recognizes that middle school can be a trying time for students as they are not only transitioning to a bigger school with multiple teachers each day, but are also adjusting their changing bodies as they grow from a child into a teen.”
Today, Niu Valley Middle school has a 100% graduation/promotion rate and 95% attendance. Additionally, the number of licensed teachers increased by roughly 10 points, even peaking at 100% for two consecutive years.
In addition to Ahn’s recognition, HASSA also named Ryan Micale, vice principal at Castle High School, the state’s 2022 Assistant Principal of the Year. One of Micale’s greatest contributions to his school is the implementation of the positive behavior intervention and support program called HERO. Through HERO, students earn points when they showcase positive behaviors and can use them to purchase school gear, snacks and raffle entries. HERO has promoted student equity and instilled school values.
HASSA is the local affiliate of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and was created in 1980. For more information on NASSP, click here.