Getting Teens Ready For College

Principal Keith Hayashi (right) with junior Andrea Jurado, an Early College student and Harvard Book Award recipient, given by Mufi Hannemann | Photo from Mufi Hannemann

Principal Keith Hayashi (right) with junior Andrea Jurado, an Early College student and Harvard Book Award recipient, given by Mufi Hannemann | Photo from Mufi Hannemann

Waipahu High School is exceeding expectations by leaps and bounds, and enjoying academic success. Thanks to Early College High School, campus fights are virtually nonexistent. WHS is no longer stereotyped as the “rough and tumble” institution it was decades ago. The college-prep initiative is strategically designed to blend university courses with high school and internship experiences, offering students a taste of the real world before they embark. It’s no wonder Keith Hayashi won the 2013 Principal of the Year award from the Masayuki Tokioka Excellence in School Leadership.

“We’re looking to expand more opportunities as momentum builds. We want students to believe in themselves, and know they can succeed in college-level programs,” says Hayashi.

With every great leader is often a partner who is equally as impressive. Transition coordinator and former Leeward Community College chancellor Mark Silliman heads the college movement on campus. Raised by a single mom, he relates to youngsters from poverty-stricken backgrounds. His mission? To mentor all on campus to brighter career paths. The Hayashi/Silliman dynamic duo’s motto is, “Challenge, NOT Remediate!” Says Silliman, “Principal Hayashi is a transformational/visionary leader who is changing Waipahu’s culture by storm and the way we educate.”

Under Hayashi’s direction, WHS has formed partnerships with the University of Hawaii West Oahu and Leeward Community College to offer courses that include Psychology 101, History 151, Speech 151, English 100, Sociology 100, Astronomy 110, Math 205 and upcoming college courses.

“Enrollees are motivated, and it is not uncommon for them to pull all-nighters as if they were actually in college,” says Hayashi. The principal credits the school’s success to teachers, counselors, staff and administrators like Silliman, post-secondary counselor Eunice Fukunaga, and Smaller Learning Communities coordinators Cesceli Nakamura, Gail Izumigawa, Stephen Nakano and Don Coloma. FBI Special Agent Arnold Laanui, HPDs Weed and Seed program staff and First Hawaiian Bank are among a long list of community partners.

The 2013 student body president, Kriztel Agpoon, earned one high school and three college credits when she enrolled in Psychology 101 at the Early College launch last summer.

“Graduates face the world with great vigor after receiving solid administrative support and valuable internships,” says Agpoon, who will attend Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles as a nursing major this fall.

Several academies on campus certified by the National Academy Foundation include the following schools: Finance, Information and Technology, Engineering, and Hospitality and Tourism, which is praised by our visitor industry as one of the best in the state. Some kids intern in a student-run Hawaii USA Credit Union on campus, others gain valuable work experience at hotels, CISCO systems and more. Other innovative programs are: Teacher Education, Creative Media, Culinary Arts, Health, Academy of Law and Justice Administration and, yes, even partnering with the FBI.

Hayashi has come a long way, starting as an elementary school teacher and rising through the ranks as state DOE Education Complex Area superintendent for Pearl City and Waipahu districts. I remember meeting him as the principal of Waipahu Elementary in the ’90s when I went to read to my nephew’s class, and I came away impressed with his enthusiasm and aloha for his students. And through the years, every time I have visited the Marauders’ campus, I am quick to notice the special bond and esprit de corps he has created with the student body, staff and community.

His laser-like focus on the creation of college pathways and various high school academies has decreased the number of suspensions at WHS by nearly one-half. And 2013 graduates garnered $11.2 million in Merit-based scholarships – a $5 million increase since Hayashi took the reins as principal in 2009.

It takes collaborative efforts that involve dedicated business partners such as Oceanit and Kiewit Building Group Inc., as well as supportive parents and a principal who cares.

“Principal Hayashi takes the time to be a cheerleader to the students and has given them dedicated classrooms to hang out in and form study groups,” adds Silliman. Hayashi and Silliman have reason to beam with pride in light of the school’s exceptional academic environment. By challenging Waipahu High School students and treating them as rising stars from the get-go, they are providing their young leaders with multiple opportunities to shine.