Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Tribute to a Visionary Principal

On January 26 of this year, we received an email that Paul T. Kobayashi had passed away.  Mr.Kobayashi was a long-time educator and principal at Leilehua High School and Wahiawa Community School for Adults as well as a community leader. The email shared that per his wishes, there would be no services or celebrations of his life.  I was surprised, therefore, to turn to page B4 of today's Honolulu Star-Advertiser to see a beautiful tribute to this life-long educator.   This tribute was presented by Aileen Hokama back in 2006 at a celebration naming the Leilehua Gymnatorium after Paul T. Kobayashi.

I was a student at Leilehua High School when Mr. Kobayashi arrived as the principal.  I remember thinking that he was short and quiet but in those days, getting to know the principal wasn't on my list of priorities.  I don't know if I ever interacted 1:1 with him or whether he even knew who I was.  I was a typical high school student, doing my best to study and get good grades so I could go on to college to become a teacher.

Fast forward - I went to the University of Hawaii, became a teacher, got married, had three sons, and in 2000, I decided to go into administration.  In February 2003, I was named the principal at Hale Kula Elementary School.  As a principal in the Leilehua Complex, I attended the event in 2006 celebrating the renaming of the Gymnatorium.  I remember being surprised when Mr. Kobayashi walked up to me to ask how I was doing at Hale Kula.  We chatted a bit about the challenges of a military school and the impact that deployments were having on our families.  I shared that what I remembered about Leilehua when Mr. Kobayashi became the principal was the new schedule that was implemented.  We had longer class periods every-other-day which was really innovative at that time.  I recall Mr. Kobayashi sharing that it was not easy to change the mindset of the school community, but he felt it would be best for students. Now when I look back on that conversation, I realize how, in his own unassuming way, he was sharing how he made decisions, always keeping students in  mind.

I did not recall the details of that speech by Mrs. Hokama, although I do remember that I was impressed with everything Mr. Kobayashi had been involved with as the principal of Leilehua High School.  Reading the tribute in today's paper made me realize how this man had such an impact on all educators and principals in the Hawaii Department of Education.  The changes he implemented at Leilehua High School have been adopted state-wide:  Learning Option Time which provided more time for students as well as professional development time for teachers; Instructional Councils which later evolved into today's School Community Council; the formation of the Oahu Interscholastic Association and the opportunities for public high school students to compete athletically, and one which directly impacts me as a principal.  Today, all school administrators are members of  Hawaii Government Employees Association Unit 6, thanks to Mr. Kobayashi and others, who realized that in our island state, there must be procedures to allow anyone who meets the minimum qualifications the opportunity to apply for school, district, or state administrative positions.

I'd like to end with this quote in today's tribute:  "In 1972, in an interview in the Central Island News, Paul Kobayashi said, 'In the final analysis, the school must meet the varying needs of the students they serve in terms of the changing dynamics and conditions replete in society today - and tomorrow - the threshold of the 21st century.'"

Thank you, Mr. Kobayashi, for truly making a difference in the lives of so many of us.

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