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KS Maui staffers Thor Akre (left) and Kumu Edwin Otani (right) celebrate 25 years with Kamehameha Schools, while Kumu Lois Nishikawa (center) hit her 30-year milestone.

From humble beginnings to world-class school: KS Maui kumu look back

Sept. 6, 2022

The early days of Kamehameha Schools Maui were something of a grand experiment — no one knew exactly how it would all turn out.

Kumu Lois Nishikawa, who is celebrating 30 years of service to Kamehameha Schools, remembers getting her call to join the Maui campus as a third-grade teacher only a week before the year started. The classroom furniture hadn’t even been ordered yet.

“We were using those white patio chairs — the kids’ feet were dangling from the edges,” she said.

Nishikawa is among a cohort of kumu and staff honored recently at KS Maui’s Service Awards program Ka ʻUmeke Naʻauao o Paiʻea. These staff members have seen the school grow from its humble beginnings as a tiny K-3 school in a few houses overlooking the Pukalani Golf Course to a world class K-12 campus in the shadow of Haleakalā.

“Despite the things we lacked, there was a real sense of ʻohana,” Nishikawa said. “We were all so happy to be there and to start this new thing. And the parents were just thrilled.”

There was no such thing as an IT staffer or an operations department in those days, said Kumu Edwin Otani, who reached 25 years this year. He joined as the school’s specialty kumu, teaching science, technology, health and PE.

“You had your job, but that wasn’t your role. Fixing toilets, serving lunches, you had to do it all,” he said.

He recalled having to borrow audio-visual equipment from Kalama School to hold the school’s May Day ceremony in a nearby parking lot. Otani also recalled how his colleague Thor Akre, who is hitting his 25-year milestone, was more than just a custodian. He retrieved balls from the golf course, helped catch a run-away neighborhood dog, and picked up lunches from nearby Pukalani Elementary School.

“Everyone had the same goal: the kids. We told ourselves, let’s just do what we have to do to make this successful. And everyone believed in us, that we could make this happen,” Otani said.

As time passed, the school grew. Little by little grade levels were added and a campus was built. Kumu Cathy Honda, who started as a first-grade teacher, said she’s proud the Maui campus can bring Ke Aliʻi Bernice Pauahi’s vision to more keiki.

“We’re able to service a lot more haumāna now, and it’s great that we can do it right here on Maui,” she said. “My hope is that we continue to foster the deep connection with ‘ohana that we had when we started.”

Those connections, said Kumu Cyndi Fernandez, who first joined as the school’s kindergarten teacher, are what made the school’s growth possible – because parents believed so much in it that they wanted more. The passage of time has meant that kumu who once opened the doors to a small group of eager students are now seeing their students’ keiki come to KS Maui.

“We’ve watched our alumni grow into adults and build a life for themselves,” she said. “It means so much as an educator to know that they had a great experience here and they want their own children to have the same experience.”

KS Maui Kumu Lois Nishikawa (right) celebrates 30 years of service to Kamehameha Schools this year and was among 46 kumu and staff recognized recently at KS Maui’s Service Awards program Ka ʻUmeke Naʻauao o Paiʻea. Nishikawa remembers getting her call to join KSM campus as a third-grade teacher only a week before the year started and the classroom furniture hadn’t even been ordered yet.

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