The past few months have been filled with challenges for our school communities, from the Kīlauea eruption to the flooding in Hanalei to multiple brush fires. Our state braced itself for powerful Category 5 Hurricane Lane, and while much of the state was unscathed there are parts of the Islands that are still dealing with the impacts of the storm and brush fires.
Through all of these disasters, I am grateful for the Hawai'i State Department of Education (HIDOE) ‘ohana and the numerous supporters throughout the state who came together.
As communities prepared for Lane, I visited shelters on O'ahu and saw our school administrators giving their time to assist American Red Cross and City & County volunteers. They provided selfless support for members of our community with mental health needs, cared for homeless individuals, and helped those seeking shelter for their pets. Many of these employees were there throughout the night, away from their families, and never once complained about it being a hardship. They expressed a sense of pride that they were able to help their community.
There were principals and school teams who went above and beyond during the storm to help evacuees at their shelters. One example is Principal Darin Pilialoha of Nānākuli High & Intermediate. When the electricity went out at the school, he scrambled with his family to find flashlights and temporary power sources, and worked to get power restored as soon as possible; it's one example of many from our schools.
I would also like to acknowledge HIDOE’s leadership team who has shown tremendous grit as they deal with one crisis after another, in particular Complex Area Superintendents Keone Farias, Art Souza, Bill Arakaki, Lindsay Ball and Kathy Dimino, and Dann Carlson and Max Mendoza of our facilities office. They have weathered storms, floods and eruptions, and have done so with strong leadership, patience and grace.
Governor David Ige and Mayor Kirk Caldwell shared with me how moved they were by our collaboration in opening 32 of our schools as shelters, and by our staff showing up in force as volunteers. They thanked us and acknowledged the fact that they could not provide safe spaces during a natural disaster without our assistance and facilities.
Together we have stood strong.
On Hawai‘i Island a group of students visiting from Germany were sheltered at Waiākea High. They were so thankful for the safe accommodations that they helped the school clean the shelter after the storm had passed. On O'ahu, the Hawaii Foodbank quickly answered the call for help and delivered much needed food and water to homeless children and their families staying at our school shelter sites. There are many more stories like this emerging as we start to reflect on the events of this past week, and I want to thank these partners for standing by the Department and our communities.
Now, our work begins to restore normalcy to our communities while targeting additional support for those grappling with the impacts of disasters. I urge you to stay vigilant and prepared through the rest of hurricane season.
I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to all of the HIDOE 'ohana for supporting our students, families and communities. During times of crisis, our schools serve as a beacon of hope, safety and comfort because of you.