The Principal’s Principles Earn Award

Corey Nakamura of Hanalei School is named top school principal on Kaua’i and one of Hawaii’s six best. He gives all the credit to teachers and staff

Hanalei Elementary School principal Corey Nakamura can’t do his job alone.

“No one can do this by themselves,” he says. “I’m surrounded by good people – great faculty and staff, and such a great community.”

The humble Kaua’i native recently was nominated for Hawaii’s 2013 National Distinguished Principal of the Year award. Though the award went to Oahu’s Kahaluu Elementary School principal Naomi Matsuzaki, Nakamura was honored to be selected as Kaua’i’s only candidate.

“It feels good, of course,” he says. “You feel that your hard work and efforts are validated. It feels great to be appreciated in that way.”

Still, he says it would not have happened without the dedication of his staff.

“I think that’s the reason why I got nominated,” he says.

Six candidates were selected for the 2013 nomination based on their ability to provide exemplary education in the elementary or middle schools they serve.

“It was a humbling experience to be among such esteemed colleagues,” says Nakamura regarding the Oahu ceremony he recently attended.

Nakamura oversees some 300 students and 35 staff members, including 20 teachers, at Hanalei Elementary School. He is responsible for managing every facet of the school, such as operations, curriculum, instruction and safety.

All the work, however, is worth it.

“I enjoy seeing students thrive and be able to be successful,” explains Nakamura. “Seeing them learn, seeing them grow and seeing them be excited about coming to school – having fun, being motivated and being engaged – that’s rewarding.”

Accomplishing everything he wants to is challenging, though, because of limited budgets and resources.

“The goals that we’re presented to accomplish and the resources, time and budget don’t really match or support it,” he says. “We we’ve got to do a lot of our own initiatives.”

The school, therefore, relies heavily on the Parent Teacher Student Association that conducts fundraisers throughout the year and provides money for various necessities such as transportation and supplies.

“They are a vital part of our success as well,” says Nakamura.

The PTSA also contributes instructors in art, music, gardening and physical education.

“Aside from your general studies, we do have an array of other things that students participate in on a daily basis,” says Nakamura.

Community involvement is abundant at Hanalei Elementary School.

“It is a small community, and people who live here are very supportive, both financially and voluntary,” he says. “That support is another reason why we are so successful.”

The staff and faculty, nevertheless, are two of the largest factors in the school’s progress.

“They are dedicated and they have the students’ interests as a priority,” says Nakamura.

The environment and atmosphere at Hanalei Elementary School certainly attributes to the teachers’ allegiance.

“Teachers love coming to work and children love coming to school. It makes it a real positive experience for everybody who attends,” he says.

Though Nakamura resides in Lihue, he says he doesn’t mind the drive.

“This is a great place to work. I look forward to coming to work every day,” he says.

Nakamura always has enjoyed working with children. The 1987 Kaua’i High School graduate began his career as a substance-abuse counselor for high school students at the YWCA.

“I really enjoyed working with school-age children and helping them get better at what they needed to get better at,” he says.

He later worked at Kapaa High and Intermediate School as a special education teacher. He moved to Kapaa Middle School when it opened in 1997, and in 2000 served as its vice principal. After one year, he transferred to Kauai High School as vice principal for two years before moving back to Kapaa Middle.

Nakamura was asked to be the temporary principal at Hanalei Elementary for the remainder of the 2006-2007 school year. He officially began his current position in February 2007.

“Mr. Nakamura is committed to educational excellence and is the agent of change, dedicated to providing that leadership for his school and community,” says Kauai Complex Area superintendent of public schools Bill Arakaki. “Principal Nakamura’s accomplishments are evidence of his ability to model excellence in leadership, student achievement, effective communication and building positive relationships.”

Despite his highly recognized career accomplishments, Nakamura insists they have been a concerted effort.

“It’s everybody pitching in to make our school what it is,” he says.