KAILUA-KONA — For Kealakehe High School principal Glenn Gray, building better opportunities for students of the island’s largest campus isn’t a one-man job.
“On a school of this size, it’s not about me. It’s about us; it’s about what we can do together with our community to make it happen,” he said. “And I think that’s the gift of this area of Kona and that’s how success happens here: that collective, everybody-involved kind of attitude.”
Gray, the former principal of Holualoa Elementary School, replaces Wil Murakami, who retired at the end of June after serving as principal of Kealakehe High School since the school opened in 1997. The North Kona high school has the largest student body of any on the island, according to Department of Education enrollment data, with a total 1,311 students in the 2017-18 school year.
Gray said he had an opportunity to speak with Murakami, who he said is “very much a legend” at the school.
“His advice to me was to continue to ask the question of ‘What do the students dream for themselves,’” he said. “And it’s still that student-focused mindset.”
And that includes identifying the things that are going well at the school and amplifying that impact, including increasing student participation in successful programs as well as meeting the needs of the school’s diverse student population.
Considering the school’s continued path forward, Gray noted the school’s vision — “Harmony and unity through dynamic education and community for everyone, every time” — pointing to the word “dynamic.”
“And I think the legacy for Mr. Murakami that I have to continue and will do with the staff is to continue to try to live up to that word,” he said. “It’s a changing place. It’s not the same school it was 22 years ago when it was built. The world’s changed.”
As Kealakehe High School moves into the future, Gray is certain parents in the community and families who move here can be confident that they’ll find passionate teachers who care about their students and schools that are “lifting every rock, every stone to try to find ways to give these students every opportunity that they would get anywhere else.”
Moving the school forward is also an effort that requires a direct connection with the community of which it’s a part, saying building those connections by working with the staff to engage with community members and build relationships stands out as a proud accomplishment from his time as principal at Holualoa Elementary School.
At Kealakehe High School, he said, that comes down to connecting with the students about their own goals and aspirations for their futures, be that here on the island or elsewhere.
“So for us it’s to try and have as many doors open to them as possible,” he said. “And exposing them and building opportunities for them to see what’s out there and then building their dream based on that.”
And as principal, he said, he wants to know students’ dreams for themselves and what they want for themselves and school, while also ensuring students feel connected to their campus, particularly through programs at the school that are relevant and engaging.
Gray said he wants to find opportunities to collaborate with Konawaena High School, in South Kona, saying he’s already been speaking with Shawn Suzuki, principal at that school.
“Certainly on the athletic field we’re going to be competitors,” Gray said, “but in terms of what we do in the community, resources that we all know are limited, et cetera, how can the two schools work more closely as sister schools to benefit both sets of students.”
But, he said, being part of the community isn’t just about what the school can get out of those relationships.
“It’s not just about what people can do for the students here, but it’s also what can the students here and the staff here in the school do for others,” he said. “I think that’s one of the more important lessons we need to teach our students, that it’s not just a take, it’s a give piece too. What are we going to give back?”