3 Big Island Principals Honored for Leadership Excellence

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The Island Insurance Foundation recognized 14 outstanding Hawai‘i public school principals nominated for its 15th annual Masayuki Tokioka Excellence in School Leadership Award on Saturday, March 30, 2019.

(L-R) Front row: Phyllis Unebasami, Deputy Superintendent, Department of Education, Stacey Oshio, Olomana School (O‘ahu), Rachelle Matsumura, Honokaa High and Intermediate (Big Island), Elna Gomes, Kea‘au Middle (Big Island), Stacie Kunihisa, Kanoelani Elementary (O‘ahu), Alisa Ann Estrella Bender, Hickam Elementary School (O‘ahu), Cynthia Rothdeutsch, Kamalii Elementary (Maui) Deborah Nekomoto, Kapunahala Elementary (O‘ahu), Dana Tokioka, Executive Director, Island Insurance Foundation, Back row: Colbert Matsumoto, Chairman, Island Holdings, Shannon “Cappy” Goo, Hahaione Elementary (O‘ahu), Heather Dansdill, Hilo Intermediate (Big Island), Michelle DeBusca, Ala Wai Elementary (O‘ahu), Sherry Gonsalves, Kilauea Elementary (Kaua‘i), Jon Henry Lee, Campbell High (O‘ahu), Fred Murphy, Mililani High (O‘ahu), John Wataoka, Waianae Intermediate (O‘ahu), Tyler Tokioka, President, Island Insurance Foundation

Island Insurance Foundation President Tyler Tokioka presented each nominee with a $1,000 personal cash award.

Members of the community joined Island Insurance Foundation to honor the principals on Saturday. These special guests included Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami and Complex Area Superintendents, as well as Honolulu City Councilmember Ron Menor, State Senators Kurt Fevella and Michelle Kidani, Keahi Renaud of Sen. Maile Shimabukuro’s office and State Reps. Cedric Asuega Gates, Scott Z. Matayoshi, Nadine Nakamura, Mark M. Nakashima, Richard Onishi and Ryan I. Yamane.

The recipient of the Masayuki Tokioka Excellence in School Leadership Award will be announced at the Public Schools of Hawai‘i Foundation Dinner on Thursday, April 18.


The selected principal will receive a total of $25,000: $15,000 designated for a school project of his or her choice and an additional $10,000 as a personal cash award. Two semifinalists will each receive a $2,000 personal cash award.

The 14 nominated public-school principals are:

  • Heather Dansdill, Hilo Intermediate (Big Island)
  • Elna Gomes, Kea‘au Middle (Big Island)
  • Rachelle Matsumura, Honoka‘a High and Intermediate (Big Island)
  • Alisa Ann Estrella Bender, Hickam Elementary (O‘ahu)
  • Michelle DeBusca, Ala Wai Elementary (O‘ahu)
  • Shannon “Cappy” Goo, Hahaione Elementary (O‘ahu)
  • Stacie Kunihisa, Kanoelani Elementary (O‘ahu)
  • Jon Henry Lee, Campbell High (O‘ahu)
  • Fred Murphy, Mililani High (O‘ahu)
  • Deborah Nekomoto, Kapunahala Elementary (O‘ahu)
  • Stacey Oshio, Olomana School (O‘ahu)
  • John Wataoka, Waianae Intermediate (O‘ahu)
  • Cynthia Rothdeutsch, Kamalii Elementary (Maui)
  • Sherry Gonsalves, Kilauea Elementary (Kaua‘i)

The award is named after Island Insurance founder Masayuki Tokioka, an immigrant from Japan, who moved to Hawai‘i at age 12 and graduated from McKinley High School in 1921. He earned a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and a Master of Business Administration in international commerce from Harvard University in 1927. His business career spanned 70 years, during which he founded successful enterprises such as Island Insurance Company Ltd., International Savings & Loan Association Ltd. and National Mortgage & Finance Company Ltd. Masayuki Tokioka was also a driving force in establishing many community-focused entities such as the Hawai‘i Immigrant Preservation Center, Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation and the Japanese Cultural Centers in Hawai‘i and San Francisco.


 “My grandfather, Masayuki Tokioka, believed that education, integrity and hard work were the keys to success,” said Tyler Tokioka. “Everything that he achieved was only possible because the Hawai‘i public school system provided him with the foundation to pursue unlimited opportunities. This is why we are so honored to be able to recognize these principals who give so much to their students and our community.”

“In order to be a strong leader in today’s educational environment, public school principals must be dedicated, creative, community-minded and have an entrepreneurial spirit—all qualities my grandfather possessed,” Tokioka said. “We hope that this award will showcase their leadership and inspire others to service in public education.”

The award criteria are based on research done by the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy at the University of Washington regarding the impact of school leadership on learning environments. The study concluded that school and district leaders can advance powerful and equitable learning by establishing a focus on learning, building professional communities that value learning, engaging external environments that contribute to learning, acting strategically and sharing leadership, and managing improvement activities based on student performance data.


The 2018 award recipient was Corinne Yogi of Kipapa Elementary in Mililani. Kipapa Elementary serves a diverse population of students, where some 52% of students receive free or reduced-priced lunches. Through the years, Yogi has fostered an “ohana culture” where students, families and community members feel welcomed. It is this strong relationship with the community that has provided the most support to the school. Prior to the start of each school year, the school’s community partners donate school supplies and clothing for the approximately one-third of students who are unable to afford new supplies. It was this community support that also helped to achieve the school’s goal of providing technological devices to each student.

Yogi used her award monies to redesign the school library for the use of the extended Kipapa ohana. This gave the entire Kipapa community access to adult education classes, after-school and evening access to technology, and supplies for projects for students from kindergarten through seniors in high school and even college. This also helps to alleviate the many barriers Kipapa area students and families encounter and offer support and options to further their education, become college- and career-ready and prepare them for a positive future.

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