This Issue

Spring 2012 Issue

Retirement Beckons - The Legacy of Dr. Val T. Iwashita ’67
Read the full story »

Spring 2012 - Cover Story

Tribute to Headmaster Dr. Val Iwashita ’67

                 “To live is to choose.
But to choose well, you must know who you are
                      and what you stand for, where you want to go
            and why you want to get there.”
— Kofi Annan, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize recipient

On a Friday late in the afternoon, even at the end of a busy school week, the ‘Iolani campus is buzzing with energy. Kids are milling about chatting in small groups on the grass, playing games on the sidewalk, sitting quietly and reading up on their homework for the following week, and, ultimately, awaiting their rides home at the Kamoku Street gate entrance. It’s a  scene that happens again and again day in and day out.

Strolling past the front turnaround and down the walkway towards the Headmaster’s Office, I feel the warmth of a campus that provides an engaging atmosphere for learning. It’s the kind of place you crave going to every day.

Dr. Val T. Iwashita ’67 certainly does. Over the past 17 years, the current headmaster has been the driving force behind ‘Iolani School. During his tenure, ‘Iolani has continued to be one of the top private schools in Hawai‘i, with students excelling and winning awards in various academic, extracurricular, artistic and athletic programs. Additionally, he’s improved the campus at every turn with a true sense of One Team pride. His list of accomplishments is long. The many milestones behind him are plentiful and include a campus beautification program, a 2003 Capital Campaign that raised $20 million in order to fund the construction and completion of the Weinberg Building and Kozuki Stadium, the recent acquisition of 5.5 acres of land adjacent to the campus for the purposes of long-term future expansion, as well as notable increases in arts programs, school spirit and alumni participation at school events.

Now, in June 2012, at the end of this school year, he’ll be stepping down so he can spend more time with his wife Cynthia, his three kids, Chad ’94, Ann ’96 and Jeffrey ’98, and his two grandchildren, Devon and Nixon. He also has plans to pursue his other personal interests including golfing, stand up paddle surfing as well as some consulting work. During his retirement, he’s hoping to stay as intellectually stimulated as possible.

The Iwashitas: Val ’67, Ann ’96, Jeffrey ’98, Cynthia and Chad ’94.
During the announcement of Dr. Iwashita’s retirement in Seto Hall in August 2011, Jenai Wall, Chair of the ‘Iolani School Board of Governors, said in a speech before all faculty and staff: “Val, you have, without question, left your mark on ‘Iolani—a proud, strong, yet distinctly One Team mark, that makes each of us feel blessed, honored, and extremely grateful to have worked so closely with you.”

But he’s not quite done yet. Even now, he’s working hard following through with various projects. At this stage in his career, however, he can also find time to relax knowing that the school he loves is in good hands and set to succeed in the future thanks to the leadership of a visionary Board of Governors and an extremely qualified and brilliant successor, ‘Iolani’s next Head of School Dr. Timothy Cottrell. So Dr. Iwashita can sit back, take stock, reflect, and be productive during the time he has left.

He greets me with a warm welcome and a firm handshake when we meet up in his office. Sitting at the wooden boardroom table that’s across from his desk, he’s wearing  freshly pressed blue slacks, a white shirt and a matching tie. When he speaks, his whole face smiles.

Like most educators, Dr. Iwashita believes that his chosen profession is more than a job or a career. To him, educating has been a calling. Growing up here in Hawai‘i, he was rooted in humble beginnings. While attending ‘Iolani when it was still an all-boys school, he humbly recalls that he wasn’t a stellar student or exceptional in any particular way. He remembers the overall experience of being an ‘Iolani student more than studying one particular subject such as math, science, or English class. And, of course, his friends made a deep, lasting impression.

Like most teachers, Dr. Iwashita believes that his chosen profession is more than a job or a career. To him, educating  has been a calling.
“I remember my friends the most,” he fondly recalls. “There was a bond that we shared in school. Today, kids are still making similar bonds and friendships that last for a lifetime.”

After graduation in 1967, he went on to college at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa so he could study business. Then, he took a leave of absence and joined the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. “It was a time when we were growing up as people and becoming aware. We were shaping values and developing character from that era.”

When he returned from active duty, he switched his academic emphasis to education. Since he grew up in a  time of social consciousness, he always wanted to share and teach that same self-awareness to others. Naturally, he became an educator.

“Then I got to teach and discovered how hard it is,” he laughs. “As I’ve matured, I’ve learned that teaching is truly about stretching and challenging kids to think critically. Kids that are exposed to real life situations and are inspired by teachers who deeply care are the ones that experience broadly. They see things that others don’t see.”

He’s put this insight to good use at ‘Iolani. “Having been both a student here as well as a parent, helped ground me in the traditions, the values and the priorities of the school. They naturally resonate with me. My own kids experienced that while at school.”

As Dr. Iwashita describes it, his role as a modern headmaster has been a challenging one. And it’s evolved over time. Today, he says, it’s more than just teaching. Alumni relations, parent and community obligations, and fund raising are all part of the job. And make no mistake. On top of everything else, you have to be a miracle worker too.

“Today, I was just walking around after school and watching the kids and I just thought, ‘What a great place.’ Just the spirit of the place is so positive.”
“It used to be day-to-day operations,” he says. “Now, the role has evolved to something that lies beyond the day-to-day. It’s about building our image outside the walls of the school. And the headmaster is the living embodiment of the school.”

One of the obstacles he’s faced along the way is how to differentiate ‘Iolani from other private schools here in Hawai‘i. Along the way, he’s done a fine job of reinforcing the school’s reputation for academic and athletic excellence and deepening school pride among students, parents and teachers alike. It’s this passion that sets ‘Iolani apart from the pack.

Above all else, the headmaster chalks up his success to simply caring for the children and a sincere desire to create a safe, supportive learning environment. “When you walk around the campus, kids are studying all over the place. The kids do great work,” he says. “I believe that the magnitude of what happens here is distinctive.”

As retired Assistant Headmaster Charles Proctor, who originally came to ‘Iolani in 1966 as an English teacher, points out, it’s his total devotion to the school that has made Iwashita an invaluable asset, and a great leader.

“He’s had a drive and a desire to improve the school including his vision to buy the Date Laau parcel,” Proctor notes. “He makes time for the people who walk through his door. And he works with a wide spectrum of the school community and members of the larger Honolulu and mainland communities.”

President of the ‘Iolani Alumni Board of Directors Adrienne Shimonishi Elkind ’90 believes that Dr. Iwashita’s ability to put the school first in everything he does has served him well.

“He’s an intelligent, hard-working individual, with a passion for ‘Iolani that motivates him to look into new ideas and take actions that he feels are in the best interest of the school,” Elkind says. “He has worked on keeping the school in the forefront with programs and curriculum, but at the same time has worked on holding on to long-held, important traditions of the school.”

Along the way, Iwashita has maintained a collegial, convivial but firm management style.

“In a word, I would say ‘participatory.’ But, at some point, you have to lead and be in charge. I want to include others and consult with people who can give me good advice.” He adds: “I don’t mind making the tough decisions. But I do like to involve people who have informed minds in the process. I have an army of people who do a wonderful job. A good leader recognizes that.”

Proctor respectfully agrees: “He knows which levers to pull. He has a keen sense of the political landscape and knows how to negotiate it. He can keep his own counsel.”

Moving forward, the Headmaster’s vision for ‘Iolani is a simple yet powerful one. He cares for the students and hopes to develop real life experiential programs that will engage and inspire them. One project that will accomplish that goal short term is the construction of the Sullivan Center. This new building will support and encourage project-based learning in a variety of fields like robotics, video production, community service, and entrepreneurship.

Another one is earmarked for the 5.5 acres of land adjacent to the school. “One of the long term visions we have is to develop that property. Currently, we don’t have a performing arts center. Also, we don’t have space in our Lower School. But we can dreams different dreams. It gives us a blank canvas to create for the future.”

So, the question becomes, what inspires him to get up and come into work every day after 17 years at the helm? “You know, I think it’s the positive productive problem solving that really turns me on.”

He goes on to mention one recent example of this was coming up with school’s 150th anniversary theme: “Inspired by our legacy. Committed to our future.” He’s very proud of the results that he helped to develop along with his team.

Public speaking also inspires him. He teaches at University of Hawai‘i every other summer. “I was never a gifted presenter,” he says modestly, “but I love to capture an audience when I speak to them and hopefully inspire them. I love that.”

Dr. Iwashita remains modest on the topic of how he has inspired ‘Iolani and the community. He’s proud of the job that he’s done especially the new look of the campus. He hopes that that inspires students, faculty and staff the way it inspires him. He’s also fond of writing the Headmaster’s Column that appears in each issue of the ‘Iolani School Bulletin because it’s his “lesson for the day.”

For his part, Proctor, who had a strong working relationship with Iwashita, enjoyed his leadership. “When I was there, he trusted me to do my job. He was there when I needed help and advice, but he left me alone to perform the tasks I was responsible for. As a result, I was inspired to work harder because I knew he counted on me to do what needed to be done. He showed me how an administrator should work.”

At this stage in his career...he can also find time to relax knowing that the school he loves is in good hands...

Making lasting memories with friends, family and colleagues is so important. So what will his co-workers remember most about the Headmaster?

Elkind recalls his public speaking acumen. “I clearly remember the Headmaster’s speech at the information session for newly-admitted families. Dr. Iwashita gave a very memorable speech and spoke about how ‘Iolani strives to build ‘good’ children. It wasn’t only about building a smart, athletic or social child, but a ‘good’ child. In this day and age, where sometimes the importance of teaching strong values and lessons gets lost, it is even more important to have a school that aspires to grow and support ‘good’ children.”

Proctor values their personal one-on-one time at Iwashita’s house. “Some of the happiest times of my life at ‘Iolani were spent over beers and friendships on his lanai. He’s always a warm host who brought members of the school community together in social as well as professional contexts. Mostly, I’ll remember his laugh.”

As you’d expect, Dr. Iwashita also has  many fond memories of his years at Iolani. But one in particular sticks out clear as a bell in his mind. “Since I’m a surfer, I enjoy helping to teach young kids every so often. One summer, I was out and pushed a kindergarten girl into a wave. And the joy on her face was amazing. It was probably the first time she’d ever ridden a wave ." And the answer to a question a kindergarten boy once asked his teacher:  ‘How come Dr. Iwashita closes his eyes when he smiles?’  Because he enjoys the miracles, small and large.

Beyond all the good times and the laughter, Iwashita believes that his greatest single achievement at ‘Iolani is a simple yet meaningful one. And it’s one that will remain in his own memory forever: “Today, I was just walking around after school and watching the kids and I just thought, ‘What a great place.’ Just the spirit of the place is so positive. We’ve made progress on a lot of fronts. Hiring the right teachers. Developing a community. But it’s the spirit of the place that’s amazing. That special feeling I get while on campus is hard to deny.”

Jason Black is a freelance writer.

Major Milestones made by Dr. Val Iwashita

This list of milestones accomplished by Headmaster Dr. Val T. Iwashita is long, indeed.

As this 2011-12 school year comes to a close and his retirement beckons, the ‘Iolani School community thanks him for his years of service, his special way of caring about students, teachers, parents and alumni, his devotion to the community, and his passion for preparing young people for responsible moral citizenship.

Below is a summary of the major successes that Dr. Iwashita achieved in the past 17 years. ‘Iolani School is eternally grateful for his steadfast commitment to ‘Iolani School, the community and making a difference in the lives of so many.

Because of Dr. Iwashita, ‘Iolani School is a better place.

  • Carried on ‘Iolani’s legacy as one of the top private schools in Hawai‘i and beyond, with students excelling and winning awards in various academic, extracurricular, artistic and athletic programs
  • Developed a master plan for the campus that gave us more open space and enhanced the environment
  • Led a 2003 Capital Campaign that raised $20 million to fund the construction and completion of the Weinberg Building and Kozuki Stadium
  • Provided the vision for the acquisition of 5.5 acres of land adjacent to the campus for the purposes of long term future expansion
  • Supported and created opportunities for notable increases in arts programs, sports programs, school spirit and alumni participation at school events
  • Greatly expanded Community Service Programs including the founding of the KA‘I Program that partners with Jarrett Intermediate School
  • Established an educational partnership between ‘Iolani and the High School Attached to Tsinghua University in China where students from both schools visit and live with families
  • Significantly increased the amount of financial aid for students to further the school’s mission of providing an exceptional educational experience to a wide range of diverse students
  • First educator from Hawai‘i to be named Chair of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and served on the NAIS Board of Directors for 11 years
  • Served on the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) Board of Directors for 17 years
  • Selected as one of 13 Japanese-American leaders from around the country to join the 2011 Japanese-American Leadership Delegation, whose aim is to promote U.S.-Japan relations (The delegation travelled to Japan in March 2011 to meet and exchange information with Japanese leaders in government, business, education and other areas.)
  • Elevated ‘Iolani’s as one of the most highly selective independent schools in the nation
  • Built upon ‘Iolani’s strong school spirit, pride and student satisfaction which has resulted in one of the lowest student attrition rates in the country