Big Island’s Sharon Beck named Hawaiʻi’s top public school principal for 2023

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Sharon Beck, principal of Ka ‘u High & Pahala Elementary School on the Big Island, was named the top public school principal in Hawaiʻi for 2023. (Hawaiʻi Department of Education)

Sharon Beck, principal of Ka’u High & Pahala Elementary School on Hawaii island, was named winner of the 17th Masayuki Tokioka Excellence in School Leadership Award as Hawaii’s top public school principal for 2023.

The honor comes with a $10,000 personal cash award and $15,000 for a school project of the winner’s choice. Island Insurance Foundation sponsored the award.

Principals Leila Maeda-Kobayashi of Kōloa Elementary on Kauaʻi and Wesley Shinkawa of Kapolei High in Honolulu were named semi-finalists from the list of 15 outstanding principal-nominees. They each received a $2,000 cash award.


The awards were announced last week at the Public Schools of Hawaiʻi Foundation Annual Dinner attended by about 700 guests at the Sheraton Waikīkī in Honolulu.

Beck has led Kaʻu High School and Pahala Elementary for 17 years.

Ka‘ū is the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education’s largest geographic district in the state, and serves a community that faces many unique challenges. Schools are small and rural; students often have long commutes coupled with limited access to resources and opportunities. Median household income there is less than half of that for the state, and more than 22% of Ka‘ū residents live below the poverty line, according to a news release from Island Insurance Foundation.


“Over her long tenure at a truly unique school, Principal Beck has shown the vision necessary to provide Kaʻu students with innovative and enriching programs, while leveraging community resources and experts, ” foundation Chairman Tyler Tokioka said in a news release. “Kaʻu High and Pahala Elementary are clearly much stronger educational institutions because of her leadership, and its students are the beneficiaries of her dedication.”

Beck wrote in her award application: “Overall, my role as a leader is to build the structures for teachers, students and parents to provide students the best opportunities in spite of the rural /remote challenges of distance, poverty and lack of resources.”

The 15 nominees for this year’s Excellence in School Leadership Award lead public elementary and secondary schools across all four of Hawaii’s major counties. They previously received a $1, 000 cash award from the Island Insurance Foundation.


The other nominees were U ‘ilani Kaitoku, Hau ‘ula Elementary; Suzie Lee, Ma ‘ili Elementary; Nathan Maeda, Maunawili Elementary; Amy Martinson, Highlands Intermediate; Komarey Moss, Red Hill Elementary; Jason Nakamoto, Leilehua High; Chad Okamoto, Pu ‘u Kukui Elementary; Jacqueline Ornellas, Lincoln Elementary; Christopher Sanita, Hana High and Elementary; Lisa Souza, Waiakea Intermediate; Kori Takaki, Kahakai Elementary; and Jason Yoshimoto, Kamilo ‘iki Elementary.

The award honors the late Masayuki Tokioka, founder of Island Insurance Company Ltd. and “a proud graduate of Hawaiʻi public schools,” the news release said.

It is presented annually by the foundation to a local public school principal who is visionary, community-minded and innovative.

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