Hard Work Pays Off

Elementary School principal receives $25, 000 and prestigious award.

By Melissa Kelsey

Some of the state’s most innovative advances in education are happening right on Molokai. Janice Espiritu, Principal of Kaunakakai Elementary School, received the esteemed Island Insurance Foundation Masayuki Tokioka Excellence in School Leadership Award, presented two weeks ago at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu.

“When you look at a school, everyone plays a vital part: custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and crosswalk guards,” said Espiritu. “The most important element is the ties between the families and the school.”  

The award is given annually to a Hawaii school principal who is visionary, community-minded and has an entrepreneurial spirit. The winner receives a $25,000 check.

“I was very thrilled and honored,” said Espiritu. “When they called my name, I was so happy to represent Molokai.”

The award is divided into two parts: a $10,000 personal cash award and a $15,000 award toward a school project of the principal’s choice.

Espiritu said she plans to use the $10,000 to help finance a college education for her daughter, who is currently a junior at Molokai High School. The $15,000 will be used toward turning Kaunakakai Elementary School into a model for green education by installing photovoltaic panels on the school’s roofs. School personnel hope to use the solar technology not only to educate students and make the school more energy efficient, but to generate extra electricity to sell to energy companies. Espiritu said the project is one way the school can generate some of its own income, as an alternative to always relying on the state for money.  

Winning the award, according to Espiritu, was a result of the dedication and hard work of many school employees and community members who wrote letters of recommendation, offered guidance and worked to bring Kaunakakai Elementary School to its level of excellence. In particular, she said past principals Ed Kashiwamura and Joyce Bellino, and former Department of Education consultant Rose Yamada have been valuable mentors. Sixth grader Katalina Santiago, the school’s Student Council President, wrote one of the letters of recommendation.


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