Cynthia Matsuoka new principal at Koloa School

Cynthia Matsuoka, the new principal of Koloa School, says she is excited for the school year to begin for two reasons:

1- She might be taller than most of the students.

2- The hugs.

She proudly declares that she’s a product of Kaua’i’s public schools, and attended Wilcox Elementary and Kaua’i High School. In her nearly 30 years of teaching experience she said she noticed that “you don’t get too many hugs in middle school and high school.”

Matsuoka earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Redlands in California in 1972 and started her teaching career in Kaua’i High’s English department, teaching grades 7-12 in various English classes.

Matsuoka was the vice principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School for school years 2000-02. Before that she was the acting vice-principal at Kaua’i High and Intermediate School from 1999-2000.

She received a master’s degree in educational administration in May 2002 from the University of Hawai’i at the Kaua’i Community College campus. Matsuoka said that the HITS program helped her complete some classes she needed for the vice principals’ training program. She was hired as principal of Koloa School earlier this month.

Matsuoka and her husband Tom have three children who all attended Wilcox Elementary and Kaua’i High School.

Lea, 26, has started her residency program in general surgery at L.A. County at the University of Southern California; and their twin sons, 24, have both graduated from Chapman University in Calif. Ty works as an applications chemist, and Kyle earned degrees in elementary education and culinary arts and is now a chef.

Matsuoka has a challenge ahead of her, having never professionally worked at the elementary school level. About 220 students are enrolled in Koloa School, from special education students in pre-kindergarten to grades K-5.

Koloa School has been labeled a “corrective action school” under the newly-created federal No Child Left Behind Act. The NCLB Act provides that low-income students with low academic grades who attend a school that has not made “Adequate Yearly Progress,” will be eligible for supplemental services such as tutoring programs.

Koloa School might not have met certain predetermined standards – satisfactory SAT test scores in math and reading; 95 percent attendance; or work sampling (standards that are different for each school). Matsuoka won’t know whether Koloa School will be removed from the list of “underperforming schools” until she receives the test scores.

“I’m disappointed that in the media it’s labeled like ‘failing schools.’ I don’t see it as a failing school because there’s so much good going on here at Koloa School,” Matsuoka said.

Matsuoka said she is very impressed with the literacy and community-based programs Koloa School initiated over the past few years under immediate past principal Dora Hong (who is now the principal at Kapa’a Elementary School), and notes that teachers are just starting to see the outcomes.

Her plans for the coming school year include continuing the concentration on reading and working towards stronger parent-community-school networking.

Matsuoka said she’s learned a lot from observing her former principals and how they relate with people, naming Linda Smith and Maggie Cox as great mentors.

“It’s such a close-knit school, a close-knit community. You just feel the warmth here,” Matsuoka said as she sat at her new Koloa School desk, looking out her office window at the shower trees and leaves fluttering in the light breeze.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at or 245-3681 (ext. 252).


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