Editor's Page: Getting It Right

This month, thank a teacher who inspired you.

Everyone's got a favorite teacher. Mine is Richard Kiyonaga. I was among his students when he taught social studies in the 1970s and ’80s at Kalaheo High School in Kailua. I was fortunate to have quite a few good teachers, but in my years at Kalaheo, Mr. K stood out. He could be demanding yet empathetic, funny, smart and self-deprecating. And blunt. You knew he really wanted you to get it right.

Mr. K taught me AP U.S. History, but he also taught me how to think critically, and why skepticism is better than cynicism. He didn’t stereotype students as good or bad, smart or not. He brushed aside so-so efforts that won praise from other adults. He got his students to dig deeper. But he also gave students a chance to prove themselves.

Mr. K has been on my mind because we’ve been talking a lot about education at the office this month. Every May, HONOLULU Magazine runs a popular feature on grading the public schools. This year, we also have a related story from writer Treena Shapiro, exploring how tech tools are changing the way students are taught.

Our conversations while assembling these stories about how teachers teach reminded me of an annual observance called National Teacher Appreciation Week. (It even comes complete with its own social media hashtag: #thankateacher.)

I saw this education issue, and the appreciation week, as an excuse to track Mr. K down, and found him still working to inspire young minds. Now, he’s the principal of Wilson Elementary School in Kahala, a school with such a solid reputation that nearly three-fourths of the students live outside the school’s immediate zone and attend on geographic exceptions.

It was great to see him again after so many years, but we quickly ended up deep in a more layered discussion than I expected. It turns out he’s not a big fan of ranking schools against each other. “Any attempt to compare them is inherently flawed,” he says. He’d prefer to grade schools based on how the students at a single school do on a test given each year for five years. “One size doesn’t fit all,” he says.

I’m glad I got a chance to thank Mr. K for nurturing my love of history and writing. And he told me he’s pleased to follow my work as a writer. “Teaching is a very noble profession,” Mr. K says. “Your rewards come from outside of you.” But he’s also still pushing me to think deeper, ask more questions. And I realize that he also taught me that the things that mean the most in life often are the most complicated.

The school ranking we did this year is based on new measures adopted by the state Department of Education. We think it’s valuable to try to help people assess and compare neighborhood schools. But, as we go forward, we’ll be examining different ways to do that and we welcome your thoughts on how we do it.

In addition to education, we hope you might learn something from “Reinventing Round Top,” a story by James Cave chronicling the history of a house tucked away in a state park and how recent changes there are bringing in more visitors, which translates to more money for the state parks.

Still reading? Then please remember to thank a teacher who taught you to read or some other life lessons. The official date this year is May 6, but I think any day is a good time to thank a teacher who’s helped or inspired you.

Thanks , Mr. K!

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