Maui’s newest public elementary school opens Aug. 5 in Wailuku with a staff of 28 teachers ready to work with 550 students in kindergarten through 5th grade. Principal Chad Okamoto, a 20-year veteran of the state Department of Education, has been working on building a staff that will work like a family. “I looked for heart,” Okamoto said in explaining his hiring process. “I wanted people who care about people and want to help people reach their potential.” Faculty experience ranges from a first-year college graduate to an educator with 42 years of teaching experience. “We’ll be focusing on the positive and building on their strengths,” Okamoto said.
Pu`u Kukui Elementary is located on 14 acres mauka of the Ohia Subdivision on property provided by Kehalani Mauka LLC. The campus has eight buildings featuring air-conditioned classrooms, space for special education students, a large dining facility, multiple faculty meeting rooms, administrative offices, a covered basketball court and a playing field that overlooks the central valley. Built to ease overcrowding in Central Maui’s public schools, Pu`u Kukui enrolled 200 students from nearby Wailuku Elementary and approximately 100 students from Pomaika`i Elementary in Kahului. Okamoto decided to adopt a teaching philosophy based on STEAM, which stands for Science and Technology interpreted through Engineering and the Arts all based in Mathematical elements. He and his staff have also been approaching their work based on teachings from Stephen R. Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”
Okamoto said what’s important to him is that students at his school learn the importance of caring for one another. He’s insisted that each classroom incorporate a community service project into its lessons. “I see us as an integral part of the community and I think the kids need to know they need to give back,” Okamoto said. “I want Pu`u Kukui Elementary to be known as a school with heart.”