Stacie Kunihisa was nominated by her aunt, Donna Katsura.
Ms. Kunihisa is highly regarded in the field of education and is a strong voice for public education. Most recently, she was awarded the National Distinguished Principal of the Year for 2019 and represented Hawaii in Washington DC last October. In addition, she won the 2019 Masayuki Tokioka Leadership in Excellence Award and received $25,000 for the school and herself. They used the award to build a "Lokahi Lounge," which brings multilingual families into one space to connect and learn how to acclimate to the U.S. This recognition, in part, was due to the fact that she has brought in over $250,000 in grants to the schools she has led. It is almost unheard of anyone winning both awards in the same year for any school leader!
As direct evidence of her impact, the state School Quality Survey results speak volumes. The teacher satisfaction rate at her current school jumped from a dismal 50% before she arrived all the way up to 98% in just a few years. She worked relentlessly with the school community, and she spent years cultivating relationships and building a sense of WE > ME across the campus. She holds events for her staff and students such as Iron Chef cook-offs, a surprise trip to the Bowling Alley for a faculty meeting, and a Rainbow Fun Day for the students to spend their hard-earned points at a carnival event twice a year during the school day.
Ms. Kunihisa goes above and beyond for her school, as well as so many others. She held the first ever "Choose Love" statewide conference last year and had over 450 educators from all Hawaii islands visit her school on a Saturday. Imagine all of those teachers and administrators flooding her campus as her staff welcomed everyone into their classrooms to learn how to integrate social-emotional learning into classroom lessons. These efforts have helped especially during this pandemic, as schools struggle to help kids cope with the crisis. There is such a great need for teachers to address the mental well-being of students and themselves.
Her Choose Love efforts have inspired teachers and students to create the Kanoelani Choose Love Rocks program, which has students painting rocks and spreading them around the world. The rocks, which are individually painted by students, have inspirational messages and are hidden around the community to brighten the lives of others during this crisis. Some of the rocks, as shown on Instagram, traveled to places such as Italy, Chile, Japan, Philippines, Mexico, Belgium, and even Germany. Recently, a student at Ms. Kunihisa's school won $500 for being a Dream Maker during the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting the community in a positive way through this school effort.
Finally, in her efforts to support others, Ms. Kunihisa has developed a new online platform, "Principals Helping Principals." It's designed for school principals to discover innovative ways to support distance learning, build community partnerships, and network with each other as they navigate these unfamiliar times in education. She came up with this idea with the intent that school leaders need support right now, and together, they can transform education in ways that have never been explored before. In only three days, she has over 100 school leaders from across the state signed up to start sharing leadership ideas and strategies to support teachers and students.
"Her commitment and passion never ceases to amaze me. I really believe she is a Life Changer in so many ways," said Katsura.