There is a special group of Hawaii public school grads who have returned to their alma maters to lead — as principals. It's driven by a sense of school pride that goes above and beyond what is already a heightened level in the Aloha State when it comes to one's educational journey – from hanabata days to "where you wen grad?"
These school leaders returned to their elementary, middle and high school stomping grounds to give back to the schools that shaped their identities, values and careers.
However, going "home" isn't always easy. As Principal Stanley Tamashiro shared, "The stars really need to align for a principal to return to their alma mater, the timing needs to be just right in terms of who is moving in and out of the various positions."
Tamashiro's journey started at Kaimiloa Elementary and has taken him all over the department including deputy district superintendent and complex area superintendent, but there was always something tugging at his heart.
"I was happy throughout my career; however, in the back of my mind, I always wanted to go back to Ewa [Elementary]," he added.
The role of a principal has grown over the years, as schools become the hubs of their communities by providing more than an education. For many, schools are the only place where students receive warm meals and access to healthcare in addition to education.
Principals are not only tasked with managing the day-to-day operations of their campuses, but they must also be community leaders who pull together resources to help meet the unique needs of their students. In order to do this, it is essential for them to develop a keen sense of the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of the school community they have been tasked to lead.
"Being an alumnus of the school helps tremendously," explained Alfredo Carganilla, principal of Farrington High School. "The faculty, staff, students, parents and community partners know that I understand the culture of the school and I can empathize with different situations."
The proud alum reflected that he enjoys sharing stories and pictures of his years in high school to let his students know that he's no different from them, adding, "I made the same mistakes, went through the same struggles in school but in the end, it turned out okay. I hope that my story will motivate them to persevere and put forth their best effort. We ask our students to seek excellence every day and continue to do things 'The Farrington Way'. There is no better role model than alumni going back to lead the school."
Carganilla's sentiments mirror the excitement of other alma mater administrators when it comes to the opportunity to instill the values they learned as a student with future alumni and staff. Each have stories and experiences that shaped them, and each share a desire to pass on those lessons.
Principal Wayne Guevara shares his lessons by continuing programs he participated in as a student at his school today.
"I enjoyed the intramural and athletic programs at Moanalua Middle and I'm proud of the fact that I'm able to continue these same experiences under my leadership," the former Mustang shared. "Not all students are strong in the academic world, and some students show more interest and excel more in sports. Sports taught me the importance of collaborating with others, humility and overcoming challenges, and I'm thrilled to see those lessons being carried on."
While each principal is enthusiastic about the opportunity to be back at their alma maters, they also understand that there is more expected of them because of their connection to the school and community.
"Being a graduate of Kalani High School places me in a position of being held to a higher standard," shared Principal Mitchell Otani. "I am accountable to my classmates and to all of the other graduates."
The Falcon community pays close attention to what's going on at the school. Otani says he receives phone calls from fellow alums in response to positive and negative news about the school. "When we excel they are cheering us on; if we stumble, they are there to offer support and lift our students up. I don't want to let them down," he said.
Otani keeps close tabs on other principals who are part of this special group, and can recite off the top of his head an extensive list of principals who are leading schools they attended. He considers this opportunity a rare honor, adding, "We (alumni) are who we are today because of the education received and friendships made during our time at our schools. So let us provide our students with artifacts and traditions that create powerful memories that will last for the rest of their lives."