Joe Yamamoto, principal of Maunaloa Elementary School, was recently selected as a finalist in the $25,000 Masayuki Tokioka Excellence in School Leadership Awards.
Yamamoto, who was nominated by Complex Area Superintendent Lindsay Ball, is among 11 public school principals across Hawaii that are still in the running. They were selected for their efforts to provide high-quality learning opportunities for their students.
For more than 12 years Yamamoto has maintained high academic standards in the small school on Molokai’s West End. Maunaloa has consistently met Adequate Yearly Progress since the federal No Child Left Behind requirements went into effect. During that time, he set goals to improve student achievement, attendance, behavior and parent and community involvement.
“It all comes down to the staff, the teachers and support staff,” said Yamamoto. “That’s really the key. With our shrinking budget we have to learn to do more with less.”
One challenge Yamamoto successfully faced was the potential closure of the school last year. He was part of a 10-member Consolidation Task Force charged with making a recommendation to the State Board of Education about closing the school. The task force concluded that closing the school did not make sense for economic, social or educational reasons and the BOE agreed.
Because of the small size of Maunaloa, Yamamoto has the opportunity to visit every class every day. While observing the instruction and mood within the class, Yamamoto will generally take time to talk to individual students just to check in.
“Principal Yamamoto has a wonderful rapport with the children,” said Wendy Espaniola, sixth grade teacher at Maunaloa School. “He strives to support their needs by making sure we have the proper resources and services, professional development, and time, to continuously build a learning environment that not only meets student needs but also challenges learning,” she said.
If he wins the prize, Yamamoto said he is considering two options. The first one would use the award as seed money to start a sustainable scholarship fund to be overseen by a local committee.
The second idea is to develop a more “project-based” school that would undertake more activities similar to the Ho’okuleana project. Last year for the Ho’okuleana, three grades were involved in a scientific investigation of water quality on Molokai. Field trips to different beaches taught students proper methods for studying, collecting and presenting data on this important issue.
“We would like to do something similar to PRISM (education program which stands for Preparation for Instruction of Science and Math) and turn it into action instead of just a collection of data,” said Yamamoto. The award, he said, would help cover professional development and any type of equipment staff would need to pursue this goal.
“We have a fine location and access to different regions,” he said. “We should utilize the resources we have on this island. We look at the deficit model too often and not what we actually have to take advantage of.”
The winner of the $25,000 award will be announced at the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation dinner on April 29 in Honolulu.