LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
James Scott

Air date: Tues., May 18, 7:30 pm

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: James Scott

 

Original air date: Tues., May 18, 2010

 

James Scott is a Waimanalo-born Native Hawaiian who has been president of Punahou School since 1994. Scott is the first Punahou graduate to serve as its president. While Punahou has often been stereotyped as the school for Hawaii’s privileged class, Scott came from modest beginnings with parents who scraped and sacrificed so that he could attend. He also augmented his tuition by working in the school cafeteria.

 

In Part One of the conversation, Scott talks with Leslie Wilcox about his memories of Punahou as a student, his vision of the school as its president, his management style, and his thoughts on the changing face of education.

 

James Scott, Part 1 Audio

 

Download: James Scott, Part 1 Transcript

 

 

Original air date: Tues., May 25, 2010

 

In the second part of the discussion, Dr. Scott talks about the balance he tries to maintain for Punahou between traditions from the past and innovations for the future and also talks about a Punahou initiative that helps public school students get ready for college and speculates on his future as the school’s president.

 

James Scott, Part 2 Audio

 

Download: James Scott, Part 2 Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Part 1

 

And it’s not just managing him, or our relationship with him, but just the notoriety of the school. We’ve just had more people … I get calls all the time, people just wanting me to comment on issues, because this is Obama’s school.

 

The fact that the nation elected a graduate of Punahou School as its President has thrust the centuries-old Hawaii institution into the national spotlight. But the school’s president takes it all in stride. Meet Waimanalo-born Dr. James Scott—next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.

 

Aloha Mai Kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Well-known achievers who’ve attended Punahou School include U.S. President Barack Obama, professional golfer Michele Wie, entrepreneur Steve Case, and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar—to name a few. But for the president of one of the nation’s largest independent schools, Punahou has never been about graduating future celebrities. For Dr. James Kapae‘alii Scott, Punahou is a family tradition. Dr. Scott grew up in Kaneohe and East Oahu, raised by parents with a deep appreciation for education—in particular, a Punahou education.

 

Was your family always … was everyone college educated, and aiming for the next PhD?

 

Well, my father had gone to Stanford on a football scholarship. He’s the class of 1943 at Punahou School, and then he felt that World War II was passing him by, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and fought in the war in the Pacific. And he came back in 1945 on the GI Bill, and that’s how he finished school. So he was able to finish Stanford. My mother started at the University of Hawaii. She’s a 1946 graduate of Roosevelt High School. And she was the Pineapple Bowl Queen in 1947 for the University. But she had to go back to work to support her family, her younger siblings. So my dad is a college graduate. My mom didn’t have a chance to.

 

And did they talk about education in the household? Was that important?

 

Yeah, I think when they were married, and I came along, I think my dad was unemployed, or underemployed. He was fishing in Waimanalo, I think. And so his dream was for his kids to go to Punahou.

 

Why Punahou?

 

As he did. I think he had graduated from there, and was—was there from, like, seventh grade to twelfth grade, and he decided that’s the goal in life. So I think that … just wanted to give his kids the best chance he could, and have a chance to go to the school that he did. He met the Cooke family, Charles Cooke family, who gave him an opportunity to go there. So I think he was on scholarship at Iolani, and I think he had a Cooke scholarship to go to Punahou School, and was able to stay there for five years.

 

And he caught the eye of the Cooke family somehow?

 

I think somebody introduced them to him. And that’s how. So whenever we at Punahou School last year, or the year before, we celebrated the hundredth anniversary of Cooke Hall. And as I was talking to the Cooke family, I said, You know, your relatives helped my father finish. And because he did, I had a chance to go there as well.

 

Did they know that?

 

Yes.

 

They were aware—

 

Yeah.

 

—but you folks had never talked about it before?

 

No, we hadn’t talked about it.

 

Do you feel a debt that way, because of them helping your dad?

 

To the Cooke family?

 

M-hm.

 

I think he did. He was very proud of the fact that he was on a Cooke scholarship. But I think that because they made it they were able to help him get through, I think he felt this debt to help others.

 

M-hm.

 

Including his own sons.

 

So he knew when you were born that he was going to try to get you into Punahou and—

 

Yeah.

 

—go all the way with it.

 

Right. At least, that’s the story he tells. So he went to work for Hawaiian Telephone selling Yellow Page ads, and worked himself up. So he was in sales and marketing, and his last few years there when he was the executive, he was marketing director.

 

And he kept his word. His dream came true.

 

He did. Because I was able to get into kindergarten, so was my brother three years later. And my mom, they met when my mom was a teller at the old Bishop Bank. She went to work for Hawaiian Telephone. Started out as an operator, became a service representative, and then ended up in training. So I like to say that Hawaiian Telephone supported the tuitions of my brother and me as we went through school.

 

Did that require sacrifices? I’m sure it did.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Were you aware of it?

 

Um … I was. Because there were some of my classmates whose mothers didn’t have to work. And I thought they got to go home right after school, and—

 

They could call in sick, and their moms would—

 

They could call in sick.

 

—pick them up immediately.

 

And my parents would always pick us up after school right around five o’clock, five-thirty. I remember one time when I was in middle school, I asked my mom, So how come you can’t stay home like the rest of my classmates’ mothers? And she—

 

What’d she say?

 

And she said, Well, to support your tuition at Punahou School.

 

But being in the Punahou crowd, with parents who were working parents struggling to support your tuition, you probably didn’t have the freedoms and abilities to spend money and do things that—

 

Right.

 

—a lot of your classmates did. Did you feel …

 

That’s true. We didn’t take many vacations as a family. We lived simply, we didn’t go out to dinner a lot, except for special occasions. I mean, we were comfortable, but we were frugal. I remember my brother asking my mother them, Mom, are we rich? And she’d say, No, we’re comfortable. So they had a chance to own their own home, they had a chance to send their two kids to middleclass—working parents to send their kids to Punahou. But we lived frugally. And there’s no doubt that when we got to high school my brother and I both got jobs.

 

Well, was that a point that you had to deal with, where you thought, Well my classmates are coming in, their parents gave them cars, they have the whole keeping up with the Joneses thing.

 

There was some of that. I think that because we got a little of financial aid at Punahou, that allowed us to stay there. So it supplemented my parents’ income. I never forgot that. But also, you had a chance to work part-time at Punahou for the kids at that time who were on financial aid. So my part-time job during the year was working in the cafeteria. I loved it. I mean we worked for our meals. So we’d get there, eat really quickly, and then be cleaning dishes.

 

You didn’t mind being the worker—

 

No.

 

—drone?

 

Because I had a group of schoolmates who were also on financial aid, and I thought, you know, it wasn’t an issue with the other kids.

 

What do you think would have happened if you went to public school, Kalani, instead of Punahou? Would your life have changed?

 

Well, in my senior year in 1970, I was playing baseball for Punahou, and we couldn’t beat Kalani. [CHUCKLE] We played them three different times, and lost to them in the State championships. So there’s a part of me that wishes, Ah, maybe I could have played on a championship team. But no, I think my parents, even if I hadn’t finished at a private school, I think they would have wanted me to go college. I mean, that was always in the back of their minds. It wasn’t just going to Punahou, but they wanted to give me the best leg up they could in order to have a college experience.

 

Did they give you speeches about it, or was it just something you knew?

 

It was something that my dad would talk about all the time. And actually, I think there were some teachers along the way at Punahou who also encouraged me as well. So the great thing about Punahou is that they—or almost any private school is that the curriculum is set up so that the assumption is that you’re gonna go to college. For some people, it’s not their cup of tea, and they end up not finishing or go in a different direction. So it gives you at least the option or the choice to go. So I think I had key teachers along the way, certainly good friends who just helped me along to make that assumption. But my parents both valued that college experience and wanted both my brother and I to have it.

 

And you didn’t just go to college; you went to Stanford.

 

M-m.

 

Another big money school for your parents. Did they pay for it?

 

They paid for most of it. But I had some financial aid help there, and I also started at Stanford on an ROTC scholarship and had that for two years before I dropped my ROTC scholarship and stayed there. So at that point, they had to pay more money, but also had some financial aid from Stanford, but also was working part-time.

 

 

As a Punahou junior-school student, James Scott didn’t give much thought to college—let alone Stanford University. That is, until one of his mentors—the late Dave Eldredge—planted the seed.

 

In seventh grade, I had a science teacher named David Eldredge. And he had gone to Stanford. [CHUCKLE] And he was the class of ’49 at Punahou. And so one day, he was handing back science quizzes. And I had gotten my C or C minus, plus, or whatever it was, and he was a big, huge, bellowing—and he said, Scott … I want to see you after class. All my friends were like, Ooh, you’re in trouble now. [INDISTINCT] And he looked at me, he says, Where do you want to go to college? And I said … I was scared. I said, Stanford? [CHUCKLE] I figured he went there, my dad went there, anyone could get in. So the next day, he took me to Cooke Library, went to the college counseling section, got me a book about colleges, looked up Stanford and says, They don’t accept everybody; it’s pretty hard to get into, you have to have good test scores, you have to have good grades, you have to be well rounded. And I think starting around middle school, I’d set my goals, not necessarily on Stanford, but certainly on college. And so that’s when it became something other than my father’s idea.

 

And did you maintain your connection and your tie with Dave Eldredge?

 

Right. He was my baseball coach.

 

That’s the thing I’m really surprised at in looking back at your history, your personal history. I didn’t expect to find that you were a jock. And you were; you were always looking at the next sports season.

 

Sports was a vital part of why I loved Punahou. I mean, I liked school, and I played football, basketball, and baseball, and by my junior year was focusing on baseball.

 

Which is a cerebral sport.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Don’t you think?

 

Yeah.

 

But you played more than that.

 

Right.

 

Did you define yourself in those days, were you the jock, or did you not consider yourself such?

 

I considered myself a jock. My best friends were the athletes. But I also liked school. I was pretty good at school. Had to work hard in math and science, but that had become a value I wanted to do well. And also, Punahou, for the most part is filled with kids who want to do well in all those things as well. So it’s not like you become a jock, or—

 

M-hm.

 

—an academic or—

 

It’s part of rounding yourself—

 

—theater person. I think you end up valuing all those things.

 

For Punahou School President Dr. James Scott, the teacher-student relationship is a powerful dynamic. A teacher’s influence can play a major role in a student’s adult life—sometimes with global consequences.

 

Because you never know as a teacher what moment is gonna be memorable, for your students. And in fact, you may not see that while they’re still a student. When Barack Obama was running for office, somebody asked him—in fact, it was, CNN interviews. Or the—no, CNN debates. Someone asked him who his most inspiring teacher was, and why. And he said, Mabel Hefty, Punahou School, fifth grade. And it’s because she had those moments, even though he was an underachiever, self-admitted. And so she had those moments where she encouraged him, and he never forgot them. So yes, those are key moments with teachers. Just think you’re about to make another decision or go a different direction, that moment with an adult in your life can be critical.

 

Did you ever play a role like that as an educator yourself? Are you aware of any moments that changed students’ lives?

 

Yeah. I was a college counselor for a number of years, worked in admissions both at Stanford and Harvard, and I was able to watch students make the transition from high school to college, and then college to careers. Certainly, those students who have a rough go at Punahou, financially or academically, or discipline wise, those moments where you can give them a second chance or a bit of encouragement, you never know how much was an impact, but you felt positive and confident that something was clicking. And so often when students are older, more mature, have more perspective, they’ll come back and say thanks. [CHUCKLE]

 

And that’s happened to you?

 

Yeah.

 

They just show up at your office, or write you a letter, give you a call?

 

Often. Both. Just ran into a former student today. Had his two-year-old baby. He’s living in Connecticut now and is here on spring break. He’s teaching, and he said he is teaching because of the power of the teachers in his life at Punahou School. And he said, You turned to the senior class in my senior year before we graduated and said, I hope some of you will consider teaching, it’s a noble calling. Just wanted to tell you that I’m doing it.

 

Well, I’m sure, obviously, nobody really can aim and have any confidence that they will be the head of Punahou School, because I think there’s only been—you’re the third president since World War II, so somebody could really languish waiting. But I don’t think people were surprised that if any one of you was going to be the head of the school, it would be you, right?

 

I don’t know; you’d have to ask the others about that.

 

[CHUCKLE] You’re already a leader.

 

Well, I had been away on the mainland. I had done my undergraduate on the West Coast, and then had taught a school in California and did my graduate work in the East Coast. So when Rod McFee announced his retirement around 1992, 93, I was in my fifth or sixth year as the headmaster of a school in Portland, Oregon. And so there were a few of my classmates, and teachers, who contacted me, had stayed in touch with me, said, You should think about putting your hat in the ring. So that’s where it wasn’t surprising to some people that I had stayed in education, and that I was of the right age to come back. So that’s where it wasn’t surprising. But it wasn’t a job you could apply for. They came looking for you, and I think the trustees, they hired a search consultant that spent about a year scouring the world and the countryside, and I’m not sure who else was a finalist, but I felt they had done their homework on me way before I became a finalist and came back.

 

Now, until then, you were ensconced on the mainland, doing well.

 

M-hm.

 

Had you decided this is where you would make your life, you would be that kind of Big Island person, you’d be living in the West Coast?

 

[SIGH] Yeah, I think so. I think home was where my parents were. It wasn’t necessarily my home anymore. So before coming home here, it had been twenty-four years between 1970 and 1994. So probably by year fifteen or so, I just assumed that especially if I wanted to stay in independent schools, that there’d be more choices on the mainland, and that those schools would become available more often if I wanted to become a head. So when the Punahou job came open, as you just mentioned, it comes up about once a generation.

 

M-hm.

 

Although there’s a lot to do at my former school, it was an opportunity. I mean, I just owed it to myself to take a closer look. And I was glad I did. Although the decision wasn’t necessarily to come to Punahou when I was offered the job. The decision was whether or not I should stay at my former school for another ten years in order to take that school to the next level.

 

What was it about the job here that did the trick?

 

On the mainland, there are a lot of great independent schools. They tend to be a little tiny, and therefore, a little precious. [CHUCKLE] And so the school that I came from before I came to Punahou had a senior class of sixty. The school that I started at, private school, had a senior class of a hundred. Both were relatively new schools. So I think for me, the longevity of Punahou and also the scale of Punahou and its history makes it rare. And there are very few private schools in America where a school can have the potential of having an impact on a city, like Punahou’s had.

 

As a product of Punahou, you know the system very well, you know the people, you know the stakeholders, which is a great advantage. But at some times, do you feel it’s a disadvantage, because there are obligations that have built up, and there are people you know and have dealings with? Wouldn’t it be easier sometimes to be an outsider there?

 

I think by virtue of my twenty-four years on the mainland after graduating from Punahou, and then coming back, I had the advantage of being an outsider.

 

M-m.

 

In that I had been at two other schools, I had a national and global perspective of how independent schools work. I had been at two other healthy schools. I felt I was coming home, but I felt I was coming back with an outside perspective. In many ways, I could be Punahou’s window to the outside in ways that I couldn’t have been if I had just grown up here, and been on the faculty, and assumed the presidency in that way.

 

Well, you’re in a position, I think, unlike many, I mean, more so than many. People are always trying to influence you and get things from you, and move you, and there are so many types of favors and …

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, how do you deal with that? People are always trying to move you, and get something. Because you do control—

 

If that’s happening, I don’t feel that pressure on a continuous basis. Sure, it happens occasionally.

 

What about somebody saying, Jim, you’ve gotta get my kid into—

 

Right.

 

—your school, you’ve got to.

 

And I say, There’s one way into the school, and it’s not through the president’s office. [CHUCKLE] It’s gotta be through the admissions office. So I think one of the things that I’ve had to grow into coming back is that Hawaii is about relationships.

 

M-hm.

 

And there have been sometimes, especially when you’re asking for money, or when people know you from small kid time, those relationships are important. At the same time, I think people, hopefully respect and honor the institution’s integrity, that it’s gonna make, in the end, a good decision. Often, it’s not the friends and schoolmates and relatives who are trying to get in. It’s once they’re there, they’re trying to change the school [CHUCKLE] in ways that—be it athletics, or be it, academics, or be it something the school should be doing. It’s a place that’s always questioning, it’s always trying to become better. And that’s the pressure. But it’s also one of the virtues of the place. It’s never sort of standing still, it’s always looking in the mirror, it’s always in the process of becoming. So that’s probably one of my toughest challenges, just managing strong characters who always know how the school can be improved.

 

How do you manage that? What’s the management style for that?

 

I think my biggest challenge is getting people to see the whole, the one big system, not just their area. And sometimes it’s a matter of timing, sometimes it’s a matter of resources that are still scarce even for a place like Punahou that has enormous resources in some ways. So it’s looking at the needs of the whole, rather than the needs of the individual that’s getting people to understand that. They’re not always fit always.

 

Obviously, you hear a lot of good ideas, and you have a lot of good ideas. But you don’t have the resources or the time to make all of those good ideas happen. So how do you vet those ideas? Which kind of filter do you use?

 

Great question. In my younger part of my career, I was coaching baseball. And I grew up as a better pitcher than I was a hitter. So I was a starting pitcher in high school and at Stanford and everything. So when I coached, I needed to know more about hitting. So I picked up a book on hitting by Ted Williams, one of the best hitters of all time. And in this book, someone asked him, What’s the secret of hitting? And he says, Knowing which pitches to let go. Which pitches not to swing at. [CHUCKLE] Which is not helpful when you’re a coach, ‘cause you—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s a talent and so on. But I got to thinking about the Ted Williams School of Management, and wondering which pitches not to swing at, which good ideas, do you not go for. Every third person that walks into my office has a great idea about something.

 

And if you’re not gonna do it, you’re gonna have to get back to them.

 

Right. So I think that from where I sit in my office, I’m looking for synergy, congruence . I’m kind of a broker of ideas, and when I see patterns and recurring themes, they become good. And that’s why an idea sometimes takes time to bake to form.

 

Punahou School President James Scott has had the opportunity to watch thousands of children form into adults, developing traits and talents.   To quote Dr. Scott: “…we believe a person who is self-confident, creative and compassionate possesses the capacity to live a productive and fulfilled life that can improve the world.” For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

You seem so well suited for Punahou, even to the point of marrying a fellow alum.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] How perfect is that?

 

Yeah. Well, Maureen and I dated in my senior year in high school, and actually, she said it took me twenty-five years to propose. But—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

So she was a year behind me, class of ’71.

 

And you dated, and then at graduation, everybody went their different ways?

 

Right. We stayed in touch, but we went our different ways.

 

And then, you came back to take the helm of the school, and …

 

Well, my mother was living on Maui at the time, and so was Maureen. And we were both available. [CHUCKLE] And we rekindled the relationship, and were married shortly after that.

 

 

Part 2

 

 

I was a starting pitcher in high school and at Stanford and everything. So when I coached, I needed to know more about hitting. So I picked up a book on hitting by Ted Williams, one of the best hitters of all time. And in this book, someone asked him, What’s the secret of hitting? And he says, Knowing which pitches to let go. Which pitches not to swing at.

 

What he learned on the baseball field has served him well in life and as President of Punahou School. More from Dr. James Scott, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in High Definition.

 

Aloha Mai Kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. On this edition of Long Story Short, we continue our conversation with James Scott, president of Punahou School since 1994. Dr. Scott attended Punahou all the way through, from kindergarten through 12th grade, then went on to earn degrees in political science and education from Stanford, the University of San Francisco, and Harvard. He had a successful career in school administration on the continent, serving as headmaster at the Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon before being recruited to take the helm of his high school alma mater. Much is expected of him by Punahou parents, teachers, students, trustees, and by the community at large. But James Scott remains calm through the pressure.

 

What do you think your management style and temperament is?

 

Well, I’m not real excitable. [CHUCKLE] I listen, one, and I try to feed back what I’m hearing to people, so that they know that I’m hearing them. So I think that helps. I also try to be evenhanded and consistent, but I try to be as direct as possible too, so people know that they’ve been heard, that I’ve helped them and sometimes I’ve helped them sort of reshape the question, or the issue, or the challenge. And in that process, have them see the bigger picture, like I just talk about, or some of the pressures that I have from other areas too. I guess that’s temperament. I probably had good mentors, either in school or when I first started to become head of a school or worked in schools with other trustees and people. So one of my mentors when I first came was a gentleman who’s no longer with us, Herb Cornuelle who was on the board of trustees.

 

Great guy.

 

He was wise and insightful, and thoughtful, and he’d ask me questions like, What risks has Punahou taken this year? ‘Cause if you’re not taking risks, who is? So I’d end up really thinking about it. So that centeredness and thoughtfulness has come from—I think maybe I seek mentors who can provide that.

 

You also said it seems to be a value at Punahou to challenge. And that means there are a lot of different constituents in a position to challenge you. So you must feel comfortable with that. You’re getting it at all sides, I’m sure.

 

I feel comfortable because of the common ground. I mean, everyone is … almost everyone is very loyal to that place.

 

M-hm.

 

And wouldn’t do anything to hurt it. But because they’re so loyal, they have a clear opinion or an advocacy about something.

 

Is it hard to lead change at a place that has so many traditions?

 

Yeah. I think that now that I have a sixteen-year perspective on this [CHUCKLE] … didn’t know it at the time, that although I sometimes felt like an outsider, and saw that as a value, the fact that I’m from Hawaii, graduated from the school, had relatives and friends that did so, I think that people could see some of the changes, and at some point feel confident that I wasn’t gonna totally abandon the values and the history of the place. So I think what makes healthy institutions work is this balance between, on one hand, continuity, history, tradition, but also with innovation, change, and creativity. And I think holding that tension is an art form, and probably takes a certain temperament.

 

Holding tension may be an art form, but it was something that Punahou School President Dr. James Scott learned on the baseball field. He says the secret begins with … breathing.

 

You’ve had this great sports background, this discipline. How much does that help in your current job?

 

Well, when I was a pitcher, I had a great pitching coach at Punahou named Len Kasparovitch, old police sergeant. His older son, Keith, was a couple years ahead of me at Punahou, and he was the pitching coach when I got there. But he used to encourage me to breathe. To take a deep breathe; actually step off the mound, and look away from the batter, look out to centerfield, and take a deep breathe. And that breathing centers you, relaxes you. And so I think that’s one. Second thing that he used ask us to do is to visualize the batting order of the other team, before you face them. So my memories of Kalani High School—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—or Joe Tory—I mean, Joe Story and the Kim twins, and Bubba Cruz, and Len Sakata; I mean, I could visualize that batting order. Never struck ‘em out, never got—could get ‘em out. But it’s the act of envisioning and imagining a good outcome that was helpful. So both of those, I still use. Before I came here, before [INDISTINCT] when there’s gonna be a potentially stressful situation, or the—a lot of things that come into my office, if they were easy, they would have been solved outside. [INDISTINCT] Breathing, and visualizing an outcome, that is a win-win, I think is.

 

You must get asked to everything; every school event, and many of them are so worthy. How do you decide which ones to attend?

 

Well, luckily, my kids are sports fans. [CHUCKLE] They, and my children are also musicians. So it’s easy to go with them. I have my family time to support Punahou events. And frankly, it’s one of the best tickets in town, to watch an ILH sport [CHUCKLE] to Kamehameha, and Iolani, and Mid Pacific, and all the great IL—I mean, those are great competitive events. And the performing arts at Punahou, it’s not an obligation or a chore, it’s a joy. No, I can’t do it all, and there are a hundred and sixteen sports teams in Punahou School, seventh through twelfth grade, three seasons. So my athletic directors give me a heads-up. When they give me the week’s schedule, they might highlight either the Blue-Gold game, it’d be nice to come, see the softball teams play yesterday, and then show up for a couple innings. So you don’t have to go the whole game. You came for two innings. If I went to one quarter—

 

M-hm.

 

—if I sort of circle the big key games or the rivalries. And so I always circle Kamehameha volleyball, Iolani basketball, [CHUCKLE] Mid Pac—

 

Do you try to—

 

—baseball.

 

—look threatening to the other team? [CHUCKLE]

 

I’m always there to support them.

 

What is it about this wonderful job that you have, that you either really don’t like, or is really surprising that you find it part of what you’ve gotta do?

 

There’s very little that I don’t like, or find surprising. I mean there are a lot of heads of schools or heads of nonprofits that find raising money challenging, or something that they didn’t think was going to be coming at them all the time. I enjoy asking people for money, because it’s a chance for me to talk about the school. And giving money to a charity, and hopefully giving money to Punahou is something noble. So I enjoy doing that. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, and you get more confident and secure at it, and you get lots of help at it. So I don’t see that as a chore, although it keeps coming at you. I mean, there’s often, people who want to give large sums of money to the school don’t want to meet a trustee or your development director, they want to meet you. And I’ll go wherever they are in the world, or the country, or in the island, to go see them. So that’s challenging.

 

Are you a good closer?

 

Yes. I mean, if the table’s been set either by a trustee or by a parent who know some … even if someone’s not in a position to do what you had hoped financially, they might eventually. And if after forty-five minutes or an hour, it’s a chance for them to get to know the school a little better.

 

M-hm.

 

So I don’t see that as—and so the tough thing about raising money is that the more successful you are, the less successful you feel, ‘cause there’s always something … else to do.

 

These 21st-century learning skills are what all the educators are talking about. How do you design schools around them, and how do you teach children who have entirely different references—

 

M-hm.

 

—than most of us growing up? They’re digital natives.

 

Well, at least for us, I think, we want to introduce the technology carefully and slowly, and not too early. So that’s why we don’t have the laptops required until the fourth grade, but we’re still introducing Smartboards earlier on. I think for us, the twenty-first century skills include learning how to collaborate, learning to see one system and how it interrelates. Being able to see the intersection of several disciplines, rather than sort of seeing them separately. And those are conceptual skills and interpersonal skills that are critical. Also, at least for Punahou, I think one of the things that connects kindergarten through twelfth grade is our goal is to make our students … independent learners, so they’re taking responsibility for their own learning. So there are a lot of open-ended questions, there’s a lot of work where they’re doing projects, where they’re on their own, where they’re working in groups. So we believe those are gonna be the twenty-first century skills.

 

Are you kind of comfortable with messiness?

 

Yeah. I mean, I think that most leaders … and I think especially someone who’s leading Punahou, needs to feel comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, and sometimes things that aren’t quite buttoned down, and questions that are always being asked. So I think, if you’re gonna be a lifelong learner, I think you have to be comfortable with messiness. That’s what keeps you curious.

 

It’s actually exciting and energizing, rather than defeating and—

 

Right.

 

—discouraging.

 

No, it’s the older the kids get, the harder it is to get people who teach disciplines to think outside their disciplines. That’s been—

 

M-hm.

 

That’s been challenging. But that’s challenging for the universities. And especially for the high schools, and a little bit to some extent with the middle schools. So getting teachers to understand that they are not their subjects, that they’re not creating just little linguists or little mathematicians or scientists, but creating—or helping kids to see the intersection of all those disciplines, and that creativity exists at the intersection of disciplines. So just to give you an example, we had had a course in economics that was required of seniors for, like, fifty years.

 

M-hm.

 

Half course, and over the years, the social studies department on the high school has integrated the community service part of it. But just in the last three to five years, has reshaped the economics requirement so that they’ve decided what of the seven to ten principles of economics we’re going to teach and how do we use them to each globalization, or sustainability, or social entrepreneurship or social responsibility? And then, have different case studies, either their service opportunity or in one case all of our students give away micro loans to people overseas. That would be an example of—before they leave, it’s a capstone course using several disciplines—

 

M-m.

 

—to understand the world. And so the metaphor we’ve used among the faculty is that, for our seniors, just like the faculty giving them their commencement address, but the intersection of disciplines being critical to their own learning.

 

The family tradition of attending Punahou began with Dr. Jim Scott’s father, and continued with Jim and his brother Doug. Jim is married to Punahou Class of 1971 graduate Maureen Dougherty Scott, and their children Tess and Buddy now attend. Yes, both children had to pass the entrance exam before being admitted. Because the School President and his family live on campus, it’s a pretty short commute to the office and the classroom.

 

Does Maureen de facto become another non-paid employee of Punahou?

 

That’s how she would describe it. Yes. [CHUCKLE] And so I was explaining to, my son the other day as we were playing catch in the backyard that the home doesn’t belong to us; belongs to the school. The home we own is in Oregon, but our job is to fill it up with interesting people. So we’ve got events there a lot.

 

M-hm.

 

Just this past week, we had two parent meetings, we had the basketball team dinner and this weekend, we’ve got some visiting educators coming through. So we get a lot of help and support in doing it, but Maureen does set the tone and the expectation for the home, and does a great, great job at it. And along the way, the kids have a cool backyard. As I said, I come home from my job at five o’clock, we jump into a pair of shorts, and we try to go see the rest of the campus.

 

Sometimes, is it too much of a good thing?

 

[SIGH]

 

You know, there’s that line—

 

That’s a great question.

 

There’s that line in that It’s A Wonderful Life movie, where Jimmy Stewart says, I’m having a wonderful life, I’m just too busy to enjoy it.

 

Yeah.

 

Do you feel like that sometimes?

 

Um, yes. But what’s great about it is that just in a school cycle, just when you’re feeling that, Christmas break comes along. [CHUCKLE]

 

M-hm.

 

Or spring break. Or, in summer, I have a little more control over time, and we try to get away as a family for two to four weeks off island. So I think what I’ve learned, or what my family has learned is that my children don’t have to share me with the school.

 

M-hm.

 

When we’re on vacation, or off island. So that’s—

 

You turn off your—

 

-That’s when it gets-

 

—digital devices?

 

That’s when it gets hard, when there are too many events that take my time. If I miss dinner more than two or three times consecutively, we start to miss it, we start to feel it as a family. And now that my children are getting older, they’re playing club volleyball, club basketball, they’ve got cello, they’ve got—our lives have become more complex.

 

Are you able to turn off your job when you’re away from it?

 

I could do a better job of that. I mean, I’m always thinking about the school. And but I sometimes have my best—do my best thinking when I’m traveling on behalf of the school, or even on vacation. Where I’m sort of … you’re relaxing, but you’re finally resting.

 

You took a breath.

 

Yeah. You take that breath.

 

You mentioned that much of your job is strategy. And so I take it that you’re a risk manager, you’re out there looking for risks to Punahou. What are they?

 

Well, I think sometimes the risk is kind of the part of the noble vision. It’s a very idealistic place. I believe that if you’re admitted to Punahou, you should be able to come there, regardless of your financial circumstances. And I think I got that from my father, because he was a financial aid recipient, my brother and I were able to attend the school because of the generosity of others in the school. So with the support and leadership, and generosity of the trustees, we’ve been able to grow the endowment, we’ve been able to adjust the operating budget, so we’ve been able to do that the last five years. And the way we measure that is that everyone who applies for financial aid, there’s a calculation about what your financial need is. And our goal as a school is to be able to fund a hundred percent of that demonstrated need. So most colleges and universities, most independent schools, that’s their noble vision. That’s a risk. [CHUCKLE] It’s hard. It’s what’s able to keep us selective, but at the same time, especially in these times—I mean, we passed the tuition for this next year …

 

What is it?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

It’s seventeen now, isn’t it?

 

It’s seventeen-three; next year, it’s gonna be seventeen-eight. So tuition is gonna go up two-point-nine percent, five hundred dollars. Although it’s going up higher than the cost of living, compared to what the current parents have been used to, it felt like it was music to their ears. Like it—

 

M-m.

 

—wasn’t five or six percent. But we want to meet that gap between what the financial need is, and what the financial aid budget is. So that’s a risk.

 

If you make a commitment to all of the children who do qualify, does that ever squeeze the folks who have great legacies at the school, and they have kids who they want to see get in there, and they’ll pay?

 

That’s a tension … specially at kindergarten, where we only have seven hundred applications for a hundred and fifty spots. It’s very competitive in kindergarten and fourth grade. And luckily, as the school gets—as you advance in grades, there are more pukas, more openings. But yes, that’s a tension for some. We’re trying to create as much of the economic and ethnic diversity as we can. At the same time, we feel an obligation to those people who have been loyal to us in the past, or who have siblings who have attended there.   So there’s—it’s the hardest part about March and April for me during admissions time.

 

Despite a strong scholarship program, and the school’s commitment to accept all qualified children regardless of income, Punahou is still viewed by many as the school for the haves rather than the have nots. But a new Punahou initiative may help change that perception.

 

You and Punahou have been honored by the DOE for your commitment to public education. And you have a philosophy about public education and private schools; what is it?

 

Well, when I first got home, everyone wanted to know how Punahou was gonna improve public schools. And I think that’s a fair question. But at the time, and I still feel this at times, is that my job is to make Punahou the best it can be. At the same time, I think that as we were requiring community service of our seniors … over the last six, seven years, the seniors have been saying, What’s the school really doing for the community? And so we’ve set up a center for public service that coordinates all the community service that talks about service learning within our curriculum that convenes conversations about how to improve Hawaii. And so I think that’s been good. But we’ve also launched something called Partnerships in Unlimited Educational Opportunities; PUEO. And as we thought about what we could do to support public schools, we asked ourselves, What do we do best? And we said, We think we get our kids ready for college pretty well. So the way PUEO works is that we have identified rising sixth graders in local public schools, bring them to the campus for consecutive summers to give them a summer school course and enrichment courses and also when they get into high school, support that.

 

So you make multiple-year commitments.

 

Yeah. So the first year, the PUEO students, they—and the first rising sixth graders are ending their sophomore year now; they’re about to become juniors. The purpose of the program is to raise the expectations and the preparation for public school kids to attend a four-year college.

 

Is it working?

 

Yes. Well you’ll have to have me back in about three years, because by then, we will know. But we’ve hired Johns Hopkins University to do a longitudinal study to help us answer that question. We have advisors within the public schools. Pat Hamamoto has been really a source of advice, but also of support and encouragement. So getting the support of the public school superintendent, but also some key public school principals has been helpful.

 

And these are kids who do have financial challenges; they’re on reduced or free lunch at their public school.

 

Right. So the way we identify them, we ask the elementary school principals to help us identify them. We identify kids who have high academic promise.

 

M-hm.

 

But who are experiencing low economic opportunity. And we identify that through a criteria, free or reduced lunch.

 

M-m.

 

So I go to their pep rallies all the time, ‘cause they gather the kids several times in the summer, and our teachers ask, Who are you? And they say, PUEO. And these are two hundred forty kids. Where are you gonna go? College. And I was sitting with Pat, in the Punahou chapel last summer when that happened, and she just teared up. We said, because every child should have that expectation if they choose it.

 

So what is your commute to work? How long does it take you? [CHUCKLE]

 

Leslie, I have the best commute in Honolulu. I get to walk to school with my children. And we usually walk to their classrooms. Now that my daughter’s in sixth grade, I sort of walk ten feet behind her.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And then she trots along. And then my—so we walk past barefoot children, and lily ponds, and just thirty-seven hundred people descending on the campus at the same time. So I’ve got a great commute.

 

M-m. Great commute, but huge weights to carry.

 

Yeah. Well, this is my sixteen year. And when I was first hired the trustees kept asking me how long I was gonna stay. [CHUCKLE] And I knew my predecessor had been there for twenty-six years, and his predecessor twenty-four years, and I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t guarantee that.

 

M-hm.

 

And I said, What I’d like to do is give it ten rigorous years. After which, the board would decide, and I would decide separately whether it’s a good match. And so after ten years, we were raising money for the Case Middle School, so it wasn’t an opportunity to leave. But in 2006, I took an extra month in the summer, and they gave me a chance to do a fellowship at Columbia University for a month to really think about the next twelve years. And I feel like I came back ready to sign up. So if Buddy’s in the fourth grade now, that means he graduates in eight years. I feel like I’m running out of time. [CHUCKLE] In eight years, I’ll be sixty-six years old, and trying to figure out how to pay for college, and—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—retire at the same. But I can now see how someone is able to stay in this job for twenty-four years. It’s not that it’s easy, but you have a chance to reinvent yourself, because Punahou is just always reinventing itself.

 

This Long Story Short conversation took place in 2010, with Punahou School President James Scott, a master of balance—the varsity baseball player who always takes the time to breathe and who knows which pitches to let go. I’d like to thank Dr. Scott for sharing his philosophy on education, management, and life. And I’d like to thank YOU for joining us on Long Story Short. For PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

Do educators tell jokes about the business?

 

Well, we tell jokes about Punahou alums. How many Punahou alums does it take to screw in a light bulb?

 

How many?

 

It takes seven. It takes one to screw in the light bulb, and six to reminisce about the old one.

[CHUCKLE]

 

 

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