Waianae Elem Principal Wins $25,000 Tokioka Award

Principal Ray Pikelny, Waianae Elementary

Principal Ray Pikelny, who has turned Waianae Elementary into a thriving hub of learning and caring in just three years, has won the $25,000 Masayuki Tokioka Excellence in School Leadership award.

The Island Insurance Foundation presents the prize annually to a principal who is “visionary, community-minded and has an entrepreneurial spirit.” It announced her selection Wednesday.

Before Pikelny arrived in 2017, Waianae Elementary had churned through three principals and six vice principals in three years — and a quarter of its teachers left the school each year.

She worked to build a positive school culture and trusting relationships among staff, students, families and community partners, according to her colleagues. The school now has a committed leadership team and teacher turnover is less than 10% annually.

“Ray Pikelny is a leader through and through,” Melanie Pokakaa, grade level chairwoman at the school, wrote in a letter of recommendation. “Through her persistence and ability to motivate and develop a deep sense of pride in others as well as a strong sense of unity, she is transforming a school in ways that some may not have believed possible.”

“Her vision focuses on instilling a love for learning and growth in all involved, ranging from students to faculty and staff to community,” Pokakaa added. “She intently listens to our concerns and suggestions, always looking for ways to address those needs without deviating from a focus on learning.”

A campus that once was deserted as soon as the final bell rang at 2:10 p.m. now buzzes with activity. Pikelny worked with educational assistants to create an after- school enrichment program that reflects student interests. It includes a media program, music, dance, art, entrepreneurship, cooking club, spring musical, sports and tutoring.

She mobilized community partners to revitalize the school’s garden, in a vivid demonstration to students that “even something once damaged can be restored with love, purpose, resilience and teamwork,” Pokakaa wrote.

Pikelny is now leading an effort to create a Thinkers Space, or Learning Center, on the campus. It will include a maker space, media center, robotics lab and library, made possible by a $100,000 donation from an alumnus of Waianae Elementary.

Sixth grader Mona Liza Rapun credited her principal with making school exciting with so many activities and changing her outlook as a student.

“The first time I met Mrs. Pikelny is when I got in trouble and went to Mrs. Pikelny’s office,” Mona recounted. “My first impression of her was that she was really kind, calm and caring.”

The principal encouraged her to take part in the school’s musical play and also a summer program where she learned about leadership.

“As a student and as a person, I have learned not to worry about what others say about me and to always try to be the best that I can be and be proud of who I am,” she wrote. “They taught me how to be a leader and to stand for what’s right. That’s how I became student council president.”

Aware of students’ needs at home, Pikelny established a food pantry on campus in partnership with Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and the Hawaii Food Bank. It became a model for other public schools, according to Sheldon Konno, vice principal of Nanakuli Elementary.

A former vice principal at Waianae High, Pikelny has hired qualified staff from the area and uses newsletters and social media to stay in touch with her community and share what’s happening at the school.

“From teachers to part-time employees, the school has now become part of the community and the community became part of the school,” Konno said.

The Masayuki Tokioka prize, which is named after the founder of Island Insurance Co., comes in two parts: a $10,000 cash award for the principal and $15,000 for a school project of her choice.

Pikelny plans to use the project money to set up a school-led credit union with “SWIM” currency that students earn for good behavior and good citizenship. It also aims to teach financial management and literacy to students and their parents. Students may redeem the currency for items or tickets to special activities designed by the Student Council or teachers.

“Principal Pikelny is a leader who is transforming Waianae Elementary into a model learning institution,” said Tyler Tokioka, president of Island Insurance Foundation. “By recognizing outstanding principals such as Ray, it is our hope that her accomplishments will inspire others in public education.”

For more, including the list of semifinalists and nominees, read the original article at the Star-Advertiser.

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