2014 MetLife/NASSP National Middle Level Principal of the Year

Sheena Alaiasa

Samuel Wilder King Intermediate School
Kaneohe, HI

When Sheena Alaiasa, a New Zealand native, took the reins in 2008 at King Intermediate—or “King Zoo” as it was better known to the local community because of its reputation for disorder and poor academics—the school’s scores were spiraling downward after several years of restructuring. By 2012, Alaiasa had led the school out of restructuring and into statewide recognition with a STRIVE HI Award as one of seven schools statewide to have made significant gains by closing the achievement gap.

Alaiasa attributes the school’s success in large part to a culture that values people—students, teachers, and community members. The culture is reflected in the school’s motto SAM—Student Achievement Matters—an acronym adopted from the first name of the school’s namesake Gov. Samuel Wilder King. To underscore the importance of achievement, Alaiasa instituted an advisory program with assigned educational assistants to ensure a personalized learning environment, consistent with the Breaking Ranks Framework for School Improvement. Her personalized approach extends to teachers as well, with whom she regularly engages in critical conversations about instruction that promotes student learning. And while the faculties relies heavily on data to gauge progress and improve instruction, Alaiasa regularly encourages teachers to put “names to faces and faces to the data” to ensure that conversations focus on the individual child.

“Mrs. Alaiasa has ‘grown’ a staff and student body that lives and breathes the school motto, Student Achievement Matters,” said Lea E. Albert, Complex Area Superintendent of the Castle/Kahuku Complex Area of the Windward Oahu School District. “She knows all her students by name. She has also successfully elevated the aspirations and achievement of everyone at King.”

Her approach does indeed appear to work. Despite a high rate of poverty (more than 50 percent of King students receive free or reduced-price meals), the school boasts an attendance rate of 94 percent. Math proficiency for all populations increased at least 30 percentage points from 2010–12, and reading proficiency levels increased 15 percentage points schoolwide during that same period, with a 23-points increase for economically disadvantaged students.

“Changing a school’s culture is essential if any other real school improvement is going to take hold,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “That tenet is central to Breaking Ranks school improvement and is demonstrated in the remarkable work Sheena Alaiasa has done to create a safe, personalized environment in which all students feel welcome and valued.”

“We applaud Sheena Alaiasa for her leadership in engaging the teachers, parents, and students at King Intermediate School,” said Derrick Kelson, vice president, MetLife. “Her efforts respect the Hawaiian culture of family while still encouraging students to fulfill their potential and create a brighter future for the community.”