Whether it’s helping students and teachers participate in cutting-edge genetic research or securing funding for a $100K telescope on campus, Waipahu High School Principal Keith Hayashi is providing the foundation for countless exciting opportunities.
As part of our Making a Difference series, I took a tour of Waipahu High School and sat down to learn more about this outstanding community leader.
MS: Waipahu High School is a career academy school. Can you explain what that means?
KH: When students in grades 9 and 10 register, they each choose a career academy. We have academies in arts and communication, professional and public services, industrial engineering and technology, health and sciences, and natural resources. Our goal is to engage students, determine their passion, and give them a sense of purpose of why they’re in school. And it’s not only about making a good living for themselves, but also about giving back to their families and the community.
MS: I was very impressed when I visited your classrooms. From the top down, people are engaged. Is this because of the career academies?
KH: Before I got to Waipahu, there was already a lot of work done on career academies. We thought of students as clients, so we focused on the high school diploma and thus the high school credits. But then we began to think of post-secondary, industry, and the military as our clients. What are they asking for in our students? I think that was the beginning in the shift in thinking for us. Once we realized that we wanted more than just students proficient in reading, writing, and math, it also became about developing responsible and respectful individuals with a commitment to an organization, people who could think critically and creatively, people who could work together. It was this focus on preparing students for life after high school and the array of opportunity that gets people excited.
MS: What was the reaction from teachers and parents?
KH: Definitely positive. Because everyone understood where we wanted to go—we were giving teachers the freedom to innovate for a common purpose. And that’s what’s happening. Now I go from academy to academy and, over a period of a couple of weeks, things really change and I don’t even know about it. But it’s OK. I don’t need to know about everything because we’re all focused on a common purpose and common beliefs, so I know that whatever happens is in the best interest of our students. That’s innovation and that’s exciting.
MS: What led you to all this? How did you get to this point?
KH: I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a whole bunch of really great people who have influenced me in many ways. I started my administrative career at Waipahu Intermediate School, then came to Waipahu High School as vice principal under Pat Pedersen. After five years, I became the principal of Waipahu Elementary School. I was then appointed Complex Area superintendent and stayed for three years. When Principal Pedersen retired, I asked Superintendent Pat Hamamoto for permission to apply back to Waipahu High as principal. She was a great leader. From her support to Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi and now Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, and all the educators I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from. I also have a wonderful wife, Donna, and a supportive family. I’ve been really fortunate to have systems, both personally and professionally, to help me to do what we do at the school. [Matayoshi was an HMSA Board member and joined our leadership team in 2017.]
MS: Can you tell me about your approach to leadership?
KH: I think for us, we’re fortunate to have a “leader full” organization, where leadership comes from everywhere, even from students. We had an area in our school that was overgrown, a hazard for students going to and from class. Instead of calling our facilities office, we encouraged our students to propose a solution. Working with Honolulu Community College’s Building and Construction Program, and utilizing Design Thinking, students learned about concrete, framing, and configuring mathematics. And over a weekend, they built a sidewalk together, all up to code. There are many other examples on campus, too. Empowering students is important.
Video: Interview with HMSA President and CEO Michael Stollar