Outgoing principal inspired creativity, pilina through puppetry

May. 15, 2024

Dr. Yann Lussiez is a Renaissance man.

Not only because of his self-taught ability for ventriloquism or the amusing characters he portrays for his elementary haumāna, but also because of his ability to lead KS Maui’s māhele lalo (Grades K-5) campus through two of the most traumatic events to ever hit the Valley Isle.

After four years as poʻo, Dr. Yann will be returning home to New Mexico to care for his mākua and ʻohana at the end of the school year.

“It’s bittersweet,” Yann said. “The thing I’ve appreciated is that not all schools would necessarily be open to a principal dressing up and having a puppet. It’s a special place.”

Dr. Yann first joined KS Maui in June 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Born in Lille, France, he has been an educator for 30 years, working in various leadership roles at schools around the world including Turkey, Venezuela and Africa.

While many teachers and staff were prepared for a serious new leader (particularly after seeing formal headshots of Dr. Yann), they were unprepared for his comical and humorous personality.

“He was very goofy in a fun way,” administrative coordinator Kauko Kane said. “For birthdays he would sing as a cowboy or in the opera. Everyone was surprised by that because he looks so serious and then he gets up and starts singing.”

Kane said that when haumāna were welcomed back on campus during Covid, Dr. Yann enthusiastically performed in a video and dressed up as his made-up “cousin” Aunt Gertrude – an elderly woman from England.

“It was hilarious,” Kane said. “The kids just loved him. He connected with them. He loved sitting with them during lunch and talking story with them. He wanted to get to know them.”

The cameos of Dr. Yann’s “cousins” became a mainstay in the elementary school’s live haumāna-led broadcast “Wake Up Warriors.” Other characters included: Cousin Butch from Texas, who in a cowboy accent taught haumāna about "Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic...and Riding", and Cousin Pierre from France who teaches how many French words are in the English language as well as his favorite food, escargot.

Although he is known by many characters and personas, it was a little blue monster that became his most recognizable and beloved creations.

“After the wildfires, I was thinking what can I do to help relieve all of the sadness because it was a really heavy feeling on our campus,” Dr. Yann said. “I looked online and found Hulō.”

Dr. Yann spent hours watching YouTube videos and practicing ventriloquism to bring the blue monster puppet to life. The puppet received its name in a voting contest by the haumāna.

“The character just developed all by himself,” Dr. Yann said. “We kept filming videos and in the second episode he learns his name and he’s so excited to meet all the new kumu on campus.”

The three-minute episodes with Hulō included how to check out books in the library, how to behave on the bus and teaching good nutrition. Dr. Yann would wave goodbye with Hulō to haumāna at the end of the school day.

“Overall the kids relate to Hulō,” Kane said. “They were excited to see this puppet and asked him questions. Dr. Yann broke a lot of ice after the wildfires and the kids felt that comfort.”

Jon Kimoto, KSM’s grades K-2 counselor, said Hulō and Dr. Yann “brought fun and life” back to campus after Covid and the wildfires.

“Being consistent and making our place enjoyable was something that our kids needed through a traumatic time,” Kimoto said. “I’ll remember his variety of personalities, but he had a vision and mission to maintain and foster learning in support of the teachers. It’s very important for a leader to have, and that relationship with the students was his forte.”

Dr. Yann said he will miss the haumāna, kumu and limahana  at māhele lalo, especially bringing joy through his different characters.

“KS Maui is a special place because of that sense of aloha and pilina,” Dr. Yann said. “That energy is so positive that it’s not a stretch to do Hulō. I’ve been to other schools and it might not have worked.”

The longtime educator is hopeful to keep in touch with the campus from New Mexico and plans to continue filming videos with Hulō and hopefully reconnecting with his KS Maui ʻohana virtually.

“Of all the things I’ve done as a principal from dressing up, being silly and doing different voices, Hulō was the best approach for elementary kids to engage with them and build pilina,” he said. “I think they’re more sad about Hulō leaving than me!”