'Blue Ribbon' schools credit social-emotional programs, dedicated staff for nationally recognized gains


Ernest Bowen de Silva, Liholiho and Waikiki Elementary schools were recognized as 2020 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education.

The three Hawaii public schools recently recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools each credit their school cultures, a focus on social-emotional programs, and dedicated staff for their nationally recognized achievements. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private schools for outstanding academic excellence or notable improvements in closing the achievement gap.

Waikiki Elementary School

At Waikiki Elementary School, English language arts and math performance exceeded statewide averages by over 21 percentage points in the selection year. The school attributes its academic success to its mindful culture that infuses Habits of Mind, which teaches behaviors such as flexible thinking, empathetic listening, problem solving and persistence. Teachers integrate a broad range of art, science and technology instructional approaches into the academic core, as well as project-based learning opportunities and resource classes in digital media, physical education, creative movement, art, music and sustainability.

Also recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2007 and 2013, Waikiki Elementary Principal Bonnie Tabor says receiving the recognition for a third time is an incredible honor.

“This award serves as a major endorsement to the dedication and hard work of our teachers, staff, families, students and community partners," she said. "We have built a school culture that encourages innovation and independent thinking in addition to a consistent demonstration of academic excellence.”

Ernest Bowen de Silva Elementary School

At Ernest Bowen de Silva Elementary School, English language arts and math performance exceeded statewide averages by over 21 percentage points in the selection year. The Hilo school attributes its success in part to its integration of social-emotional programs into learning environments. Their program was designed to increase inclusiveness and unity within the school community by mixing students across grade levels, teachers and school faculty.

E.B. de Silva Elementary Principal Dennis O’Brien credits the supportive staff, families and community for creating a greater sense of belonging, additional support and opportunities for students for making this achievement possible.

“We have an exceptionally talented teacher core, very capable support staff members and highly supportive parents. As a small community, we have learned a great deal from Hilo area administrators and Principal (Doreen) Higa of Momilani Elementary School. The award represents the unique partnership our school has cultivated between parents, teachers and students.”

King Liholiho Elementary SchoolAt King Liholiho Elementary, English language arts and math performance exceeded statewide averages by over 17 percentage points in the selection year. With a culturally diverse student population and one-fourth of the students identifying as English learners, Liholiho attributes its success to integrating literacy skills with high-impact thinking across curricular areas. The school’s consistent use of social-emotional strategies, the integration of art across subjects, and the use of “learning pit” strategies where learners find multiple solutions to challenging problems, have also contributed to high levels of student achievement.

In addition to the National Blue Ribbon Schools award, King Liholiho Elementary Principal Christina Small received the prestigious Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership. This award celebrates distinguished school leaders and the critical role they play in guiding students and schools to excellence, frequently under challenging circumstances.

Ten upstanding principals were chosen from the 2020 group of National Blue Ribbon Schools to receive this honor. Award winners were nominated by their school communities during the final stages of the National Blue Ribbon Schools application process. Principal Small was additionally recognized as a special Lifetime Leadership recipient.

“I had the privilege of working with three generations of National Blue Ribbon Award winners at King Liholiho Elementary. We focus heavily on staff development to heighten critical thinking, literacy and metacognitive strategies. Furthermore, we continuously support the social-emotional needs of students and staff. I believe all Hawai‘i administrators and teachers should be honored for their tremendous work during this challenging pandemic year.”

The three Hawaiʻi schools were among 317 public schools and 50 non-public school winners nationwide announced in September by the U.S. Department of Education. 

Contact Information

Communications Branch

Phone: (808) 784-6200

Email: doeinfo@k12.hi.us

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