Longtime principal of Kapaa High School Daniel Hamada hung up his hat Friday, retiring from education and leaving his position to his vice principal, Tommy Cox.
Cox takes over as principal of Kapaa High School on Monday and will have a few days to adjust to his new post; kids return from winter break on Jan. 7.
“I’m very excited for Tommy,” Hamada said. “His strength is that he listens to people. There’s a sense of continuity as we are working with the business community and the staff and the parents.”
A graduate of Kapaa High School, Hamada started teaching at Wilcox Elementary in 1976 and ended up working at the elementary schools in Kapaa, Kekaha and Ele’ele, as well as Kapaa High School before moving on to being Kauai’s complex area superintendent for seven years and assistant superintendent for four.
Hamada sat down with The Garden Island in his last days as principal at Kapaa High School and took some time to reminisce about his career, a hillside of bougainvillea he tangled with in Ele’ele, and the many ways he’s invested himself in Hawaii’s education through the years.
You graduated from Kapaa High, how does it feel to be retiring — and from the same school?
I am confident we’ve accomplished a lot here at this school and it’s time for the next generation of leaders to take over. You have to know when it’s time for them to take over, you don’t want to hang on and not build the next generation of leaders. I know that Mr. Cox is ready right now. I’m still healthy and around so if they need help, they’re welcome to call. But, now it’s their time.
I live in this community and I have parents who were my students at one time, and I’m seeing their kids around here. It’s great. It is a family.
It’s that in all of Kauai, but today I bleed a little more green. In the Kapaa community, whenever you need something for the kids and the school they’re there.
We all built a lot of momentum of the school and it’s really truly is — what’s the saying, it takes a village to educate a child? — that’s what it is. We all work well together.
I always knew I would return to Kauai. It’s kind of nice to cumulate your career at your alma matter.
Take us through the journey coming back to Kauai after school?
I was majoring in math and looking into architecture (in Colorado). I always like to draw things out and design things and I have no regrets going into education. I came out in the late ‘70s and there were no jobs. I got a special education degree during that time, too, so you’d think there was jobs, but there wasn’t. I was hired in Oahu and then staff reduced to Wilcox (Elementary). Then I got staff reduced to Kapaa and ended up teaching math in the fifth and sixth grade.
After I got staff reduced in Oahu, and I chose to come to Kauai, I stayed with my parents, so I saved on rent. At that point, after being staff reduced so many times, your self-esteem isn’t that strong, but that was the nature of those few years. Student enrollment was going down and I never did the research as to why.
It was a blessing in disguise, though. I ended up at Kapaa Elementary and geared for different roles like a counselor and so on and acting vice principal and by various experiences I was able to see what else I was interested in.
I enjoyed being in the classroom, but I took the courses and training and went into administration and became vice principal here at Kapaa High School. Then Hurricane Iniki came along and right after the hurricane the superintendent sent me to Ele’ele (to be principal). That was a very good experience. I will never have regrets from all those experiences.
It’s great to see kids learn and grasp an idea, and kids are very honest. They’re the quickest to give you feedback. If it’s boring, their body features will tell you that’s the worst thing. Watching kids gravitate (toward information) and learn, it’s fulfilling.
What are some of the high points, reflecting on your tenure at Kapaa High School, and the rest of your career?
Schools are very talented you know. In my experience go through the state, we have a lot of talented people, I few just give people a shot to do what they do.
Where we are at right now, it’s a good place, it’s a balance. There’s still accountability, and people aren’t afraid of accountability, they just want to know the rules of the game. To keep it basic, you take a child where he or she is at and how do you measure their growth over time? That’s how you measure your job. But the trick is that they’re all different. You get five guys at the line in a 100-yard dash, they’re not all going to reach the end at the same time. It comes down to: Do you see progress along the way?
Education is not easy. It has to be common sense and realistic for the kids. It’s not just about rules and regs and money, it’s about what’s best for kids and at the end of the day that’s what you’re looking for.
The key it is, you gotta create the environment for the staff and the students to succeed, you can’t just ask them you have to create the support system. It’s not rocket science.
Here, we do a lot of afternoon strategizing how to be better organized for the sake of our kids. That’s why for us here at Kapaa we have done well academically as well, right now we have a 99 percent graduation rate. At Kapaa, we have a 4X4 block. We only have four periods a day, it’s the same four periods and 80 minutes. (The way it works out) kids can get four extra credits at the end of the academic year and they can graduate at the end of the junior year. That works good with Early College.
We’re the only ones on Kauai that are doing this. We started after I did it with the change, we started went through three bell schedules and started this in 2012-13 school year, but a number of high schools across the state are moving toward this.
In some classes, it’s too short, by the time they get settled, it’s time to leave. But, because our classes are continuously (longer) every day we see the kids are being reinforced and they’re getting the grounding of the fundamentals faster.
One thing I didn’t anticipate from the kids came after two graduating classes and the one thing I kept hearing was that they weren’t learning financial literacy.
That’s why we started the credit union with Gather. The management does a great job in coaching and teaching our kids in terms of financial literacy practices.
But our kids have a lot of, what they call in the business world soft skills, the kids know how to work with customers, how to teach banking skills. We have (as customers) high school kids, adults and elementary kids. It’s called the Bank Bus and they hold each other’s hands and walk over and deposit.
Kapaa High School has a lot of community support. How do you foster that kind of involvement?
I always share with the new administrators, number one is that you as a principal and your leadership team have to go out and meet the community halfway. You can’t wait for them to come to you. Whether it’s Rotarians, or Kapaa Chamber, or the Business Association — I even to go Poipu and Hanalei to check in with our community groups.
I like to give them an update on what’s happening with the school and they can ask me questions in their own meeting room anything they want to ask and we can answer. Being transparent and addressing everything makes a big difference and it breaks down the artificial walls.
Kapaa High School, like the other schools on the island, we’ve had good core of kids graduating and a lot of them have turned out to be community leaders and they come back. I’m very proud of that and that’s why it makes the school stronger in terms of sense of community.
So, Mr. Hamada, what’s next for you?
I’m still going to be involved in education. I’ll be helping with accreditation, where you go and visit other schools and get them accredited.
I’ll be going throughout the state, wherever they need help. Already they called me for three schools and I had to tell them, “You know, I am retiring …”
I also like to do renovations, so I’m helping my parents with a renovation of their home.
And I’ve got my son and his wife on Oahu and I’m going to travel, too. I’ve never been one to sit, I cannot. I feel good and I’m looking forward.