Giving Kids a Chance to Succeed

Bill Arakaki, the DOE’s head man on Kaua‘i, is on a mission to raise math scores and make college a reality for more students

Bill Arakaki sees the positive attributes of every keiki.

“He would challenge us to seek something to praise a child about and build on that to further develop them forward,” says longtime friend Lyle Tabata, who coached with Arakaki during the 1990s at Kaua‘i High School.

He developed players’ maximum potential by giving everyone an opportunity to excel in the game and in life, adds Tabata.

Though he no longer coaches keiki sports, Arakaki uses similar methods to influence them in his current position as Kaua‘i Complex Area superintendent of public schools. He oversees programs and departments of 16 schools with more than 9,000 students and 800 employees, — which includes more than 500 teachers — within the Department of Education .

“It’s not only managing the schools, it’s actually being the leader to make movement on instruction,” Tabata notes.

And a leader he is, according to Kaua‘i Aloha Foundation’s Barbara Curl.

“I feel Bill is the right person in the right time and place, leading in the right way,” says Curl, who is working with Arakaki to help develop more support for children and families on Kaua‘i.

She adds, “He is a catalyst for co-creating change within the educational system. The ability to be a true team player, along with his inspiration, courage and perseverance, are what make him a true educational statesman and leader on Kaua‘i.”

Arakaki is more than willing to lead the way for change and acknowledging the positive qualities of children.

“It’s a time in which we’re looking at things to change,” he says.

While some things are working within the system, others are not.

“I am the agent for change within the system,” states Arakaki, a Kapa‘a resident.

One of the many obstacles he faces is working to dis-mantle the negative perspective people have on education in Hawai‘i. With the support of the principals and teachers, he hopes for a team effort to ensure all keiki have the skills they need to sustain themselves in life long after graduation.

“Because what we do now will impact what the future of our schools will look like,” he says, adding that he hopes many graduates will attend college and return to Kaua‘i to become the next generation of teachers and leaders.

“We need to be competitive,” he says. “They need to have those skills and attributes to work in the world today.”

Statistically, it’s a mixed bag. On one hand, only 85 percent of seniors at Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i and Waimea high schools graduated in 2011. But on the other hand, almost 60 percent of graduating seniors from those three public high schools are attending college.

The mixed bag continues: 41 percent of the class of 2011 attending college enrolled at the University of Hawai‘i. But 38 percent of those students had to take remedial math courses, which can cause a delay in graduation.

“So, yes, we’re getting more students interested in college, but how do we have them be prepared so they can take the regular college courses?” he asks.

Clearly there is work to do and room for improvement.

“We have a lot of work to do,” says Arakaki.

To help address the issue, under the direction of Arakaki, schools are trying to focus more on the skills and concepts being taught, and have contracted consultants to work with teachers.

“It’s quite challenging because the way I learned math is quite different,” says Arakaki, whose daughter Kailee attends Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School and sometimes needs help with her homework. “So even for me, in my position, when consultants come down, I pay attention.”

Arakaki, who graduated from Oahu’s Aiea High School in 1974 and later earned an education degree from the UH-Manoa, has been in the state’s educational system for 32 years. His first job was as a special motivation teacher for at-risk students at Waipahu High School on O‘ahu.

“To me, it was very challenging because I dealt with students who did not fit the mold,” says Arakaki, who also served as the school’s varsity assistant football coach, head junior varsity coach and head boy’s track and field coach.

It was an eye-opening experience for him. He now has a soft heart for at-risk kids, especially since there are so many more today who are dealing with substance abuse and violence as a result of economic conditions and family stresses at home.

“We need to really support them so that they can succeed and move forward,” he says. “They have dreams and aspirations, too.”

Arakaki continued to work with students who unrightfully “fall through the gaps” when he moved to Kaua‘i in the late 1980s to teach at the Alternative Learning Center at Kaua‘i High School and Intermediate School, where he also was head varsity football coach and head boy’s track and field coach.

By 1990, Arakaki became Kaua‘i High School and Intermediate School’s acting vice principal and started to gain interest in the administrative side of academics — coaching teachers rather than kids. From there, he served in various administrative capacities around the island, including helping to open Kapa‘a Middle School more than a decade ago.

Prior to accepting his current position in 2006, Arakaki was principal of Waimea High School for approximately eight years. While there he received many accolades, including Kaua‘i District Secondary Principal of the Year and Kaua‘i District Secondary Education Excellence Award.

Reading and math scores steadily increased at Waimea since he jumped on board, and continue to increase today.

“I’m really proud of the families and teachers there,” says Arakaki.

“If you believe in destiny and the connections that you have, things just seem to fall in place,” he says regarding the many different professional experiences and opportunities he is grateful to have been granted throughout the years. “Kaua‘i has been so nice to me. I’ve been so blessed because of the generosity, support and respect I’ve gotten.”

Arakaki continues to be involved in athletics as the Complex Area superintendent liaison to athletics, and he participates in many organizations such as Get Fit Hawai‘i and Big Brothers Big Sisters. He also is very adamant about the health of our keiki, and is involved in projects such as removing soda machines from public schools and replacing them with water and 100 percent juice options.

When he isn’t initiating positive change, managing crises or curtailing online bullying, Arakaki spends time with his family — wife Blanche, an educational assistant at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, and their five children, Jonathan, Justin, Natasha, Allison and Kailee.

He also enjoys walking on the bike path, fishing and attending sporting events.

“Any time there are any sports activities, I’m there to support them,” says Arakaki, who was born in Japan to a mother who was a Japanese citizen and a father who served in the United States Army.

Still, Arakaki spends most of his time working to improve the educational system. This is not just a job for him.

“Bill is the epitome of what I call and strive for myself — a servant leader who will give all to those he serves,” Tabata says.