The National Geographic Bee

The National Geographic Bee


The annual National Geographic Bee returns for the 29th consecutive year. The 2017 Bee features fourth-to-eighth-graders vying for the crown and the top prize of a $50,000 college scholarship and lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.


The Bad Kids


Located in an impoverished Mojave Desert community, Black Rock Continuation High School is an alternative school for students at risk of dropping out; Black Rock is their last chance. Extraordinary educators believe that empathy and life skills, more than academics, give these underserved students command of their own futures.


Students at PBS Hawai‘i

The following position is currently open:

Student Production Technician – Part-time


In line with our educational mission, PBS Hawai‘i offers a training program for college students to gain valuable experience in the media industry. We offer student positions in media production, marketing/communications and graphic design.


College students have always been the backbone of PBS Hawai‘i’s production crew. Many of them have gone on to successful media careers. See some of their stories here!





Below are our available student positions:

Student Production Technician – Part-time

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The part-time Student Production Technician is an entry-level position within PBS Hawaiʻi’s Creative Services department. Training includes operating video cameras, video switcher, audio equipment, character generator, still store, teleprompter, floor directing, and assembling/lighting sets. Occasional field shoots required. Other duties include carrying equipment and set pieces (sometimes heavy), working atop 13-foot ladders, and driving company vehicles. Must be able to lift 40 lbs. and have a clean drivers abstract. Hours vary weekly between 4–19 hours, depending on production schedules. Good availability on weekends and evenings a plus. Availability for weekly Thursday evening productions a must. Looking for applicants who can make a commitment of at least one year.


No experience necessary. Starting pay is $10.10 per hour. This position reports directly to the Vice President of Integrated Media, but will also work under the leadership of any senior staff member assigned to the project.


PBS Hawai‘i
Human Resources Manager
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UH law professor to appear on PBS show ‘Open Mind’

PBS Hawaii


Carole PetersonHONOLULU, HI – The national public television show “The Open Mind” will feature a conversation with Carole Petersen, a Professor of Law at the UH William S. Richardson School of Law, and Director of the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution. The episode is scheduled to air Sunday at 6:00 pm on PBS Hawai‘i.


On the program, Petersen discusses the state of civil liberties in Hong Kong, where Petersen taught law for 17 years. She predicts that a small independence movement in Hong Kong will give Beijing incentive to further crack down on the territory.


Petersen has been researching challenges to civil liberties in Hong Kong since 1997, when it ceased to be a British colony and became a “Special Administrative Region” of China. In her 2006 co-authored book, Academic Freedom in Hong Kong, Petersen argued that the “One Country Two Systems” model had been largely successful in protecting academic freedom and civil liberties in Hong Kong. However, her latest research documents a dramatic decline in academic freedom in the past decade.


“The Open Mind,” hosted by Alexander Heffner, is a one-on-one conversational show that explores the world of ideas across politics, media, technology, the arts, news and public affairs. Designed to elicit insights into contemporary areas of national concern, “The Open Mind” explores challenges of the digital age, American politics and other emerging issues.


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For questions regarding this press release:

Contact: Liberty Peralta


Phone: 808.462.5030


PBS Hawai‘i is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization and Hawai‘i’s sole member of the trusted Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). We advance learning and discovery through storytelling that profoundly touches people’s lives. We bring the world to Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i to the world. | | @pbshawaii


The National Geographic Bee 2016



The annual National Geographic Bee returns for the 28th consecutive year, with American humorist and journalist Mo Rocca serving as host and moderator. Taped in May, the competition features fourth- to eighth-graders vying for the Bee crown and the top prize of a $50,000 college scholarship. The finalists, all winners of their state-level geographic bees, have triumphed over a field of nearly 4 million students to earn a place in the national championships. They represent the 50 states, District of Columbia, Atlantic Territories, Pacific Territories and Department of Defense Dependents Schools.


How Can Hawai‘i’s Special Education Services Boost Achievement for Students with Disabilities?


Education reform over the last decade has led to significant academic improvement for Hawai‘i’s public school students. But the state’s special education students haven’t enjoyed the same academic gains, despite the Department of Education devoting 23% of its budget to special education services for what is only about 10.5% of the Hawai‘i’s public school population. How can Hawai‘i’s special education services boost achievement for students with disabilities?


Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.


Phone Lines:
973-1000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.




Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights


Does Fine Arts Education Have a Place in Hawai‘i’s Public Schools?


Federal and state mandates have compelled public schools to focus more time and resources on academic standards and less on the fine arts. Are we shortchanging students by not giving them an outlet for creative expression? Has fine arts education fallen by the wayside with the push to excel in critical thinking in Hawai‘i’s public schools?



Gail Awakuni


Original air date: Tues., Mar. 11, 2008


National High School Principal of the Year 2004


A veteran public school teacher and DOE administrator, Gail Awakuni became principal at Campbell High School just before the school year began in 2000. The school was known for gang and discipline problems. It posted some of the lowest test scores and highest drop-out rates in the state. Fewer than half its students were graduating.


This year? The school says 99% of its seniors will earn diplomas. Test scores are way up. And Campbell High School is earning academic awards and accolades. What happened? We’re about to meet a petite and powerful agent of change named Gail Awakuni.


Gail Awakuni Audio


Download the Transcript




Aloha and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Something remarkable is taking place in Ewa Beach, at James Campbell High School. Seven years ago, the school was known for gang and discipline problems. It posted some of the lowest test scores and highest drop-out rates in the state. Fewer than half its students were graduating. This year? The school says 99% of its seniors will earn diplomas. Test scores are way up. And Campbell High School is earning academic awards and accolades. What happened? We’re about to meet a petite and powerful agent of change named Gail Awakuni.


A veteran public school teacher and DOE administrator, Gail Awakuni became principal at Campbell High School just before the school year began in 2000. Within four years, she’d been named State Principal of the Year and went on to top national honors.


Pat Hamamoto, Schools Superintendent (at Campbell High School, Sept. 24, 2004)

“I would like to announce that Dr. Awakuni is the Nat’l. High School Principal of the Year 2004. Her vision was to create a school in which students would be welcomed, students would be cared for and students would go out with the knowledge and skills that they would need to be successful. And Dr. Awakuni, your principal, started with a plan and she actually put all this to action.”


She says no need to call her Doctor. Many of the students simply call her Miz. Gail Awakuni’s plan and actions have led to tremendous changes in attitudes and achievement at Campbell High School. Ten years ago, the school says 10% of its students went on to college. Now, more than 70% do. Seven years ago, 30 students took College Board Advanced Placement exams. This year, nearly 400 will. Let’s meet Gail Awakuni, the principal – and principal mover and shaker – of Campbell High School.


This is amazing, isn’t it? It’s like this explosion of success and achievement at Campbell in the last few years.


Few years; right.


Since you’ve been there. I need to explore this more with you. Because I know that there are lots of committed principals and other educators in our schools, and I know they’re knowledgeable, and I know they make use of opportunities. But you’ve been able to marshal so many things together to make this happen. What is it about you?


I don’t think it’s about me. It really is about the students and people at the school level who are willing to just put forth a lot of work and effort, and make the school better. And I think that’s the rallying point that we have, you know, going for us, where you take a negative reputation, and you turn that into something positive. And that has been, you know, our mantra. So whenever we have a setback, then we just—Okay, let’s move forward and move forward in how we’re gonna fix this to make it better. And we’re by no way a perfect school. You know, we have our share of problems, and we haven’t we haven’t fixed all of the problems in the community there, and I don’t think we ever will. But we do try to take one child at a time and try to help each child, or try to better the situation for them.


So what’s—


And we’re still working at it.


What’s the limit? Where does the gate on the achievement clang down?


I don’t think it ever ends. I think it’s a continuous, spiraling effect of continually trying to be better and improve. Once—I think like all civilizations, where they reach a point where they feel like they, they’ve reached it or, you know, have reached the point where they can just sit back and relax; and I think that’s when civilizations crumble again.


So you see no limits?


So there’s no limit. We just keep on moving forward, and keep on you know, improving what we’re doing.


What’s the toughest thing to change?


I think the toughest thing to change is changing mindsets and attitudes.


On the part of?




Any person involved in the school?


Any person. I think that is the most difficult. Also, having people believe in themselves, and having confidence, developing the confidence to excel and to be the best that they can be. So everybody is their own worst enemy. Changing mindsets; that’s the most difficult.


Changing mindsets.


Mindsets. But you know, it’s possible when we see the successes. So everybody likes to see success and build on positive, positive results. And I think that’s the key; to look at the results, and keep on climbing and keep on working at those results, to see that we can better ourselves.


For students in the academic middle, Principal Gail Awakuni spearheaded the AVID program – offering Advancement Via Individual Determination. She also established Small Learning Communities – academies within the school which educate students along the pathways of their chosen careers.


We all talk about metrics, in business. The metrics, the measurements, the quantification of education; there are a lot of really encouraging signs and transformations at Campbell High School. What are some of them?


Well, we use the data to actually start our work. Because was our assessment and to see where we’re at, and how we’re gonna go, and where. And every time we the reason why I measured the growth was to encourage and motivate everybody to keep on going. Because when they say success breeds success, that really is true. Because with our little successes, that is how we grew, and it got bigger and bigger. And each time we were pleasantly surprised.


What caused that? What happened?


School wide reform. We decided to focus on the ninth grade, and we contracted Johns Hopkins University to help us.


Where’d you get the money to do that?


We used our school money from our Federal funds, as well as the State funding, and we wrote grants. Lots of grants, those beginning years. So we did start off with a planning grant, which was a Federal grant. And it took us a year to plan and make our plan what we were gonna do. And then the second year was implementation; then we went out and we got a small learning community implementation grant. So those monies helped to quick start us. We also had donations from the community; James Campbell Estate, for example, was you know, very much behind of us. They gave us a check for $150,000 to get started.


So you organized the school into small learning communities.




And what else?


And so we started the ninth grade, then we replicated the tenth grade academy. And the upperclassmen were the small learning communities into their electives. And we measured, and we watched the growth of our students. Also too, competitions help. So from the community there, as well as the Department of Education where there are State and National contests. Then we started preparing our students for these contests. And then when they started winning, that was an extremely strong motivator. For example, in 2004, when our math team won the statewide math bowl—


The first time a Leeward Oahu school had ever won the math bowl.


And also, first time for Campbell. And so that was you know, I think, one of the greatest incentives. It helped the students and the whole school to see, we can do it, and to forge forward, and each time they’re seeking you know, greater success or do better. It’s the measurement.


I want to know where this came from because clearly, there was your leadership at work. Where did you get this stuff? How did you set this transformation in place?


Well, it’s a lot of things going on, and I think we take a team of teachers as well as administrators to the mainland, where we go to national conferences, network with people. You know, outside of Hawaii.


So looking for ideas.


Looking for ideas, looking for research based models. Journals. Do a lot of reading.


‘Cause you only want something that’s proven.


Exactly. And then go on the internet and um, communicate through internet, find out more, and research these programs. We also do site visits. And so we visit schools and we see. And we go to schools of similar demographics as Campbell. And then we see how it’s operationalized, and we get a lot of help from people who have done it. For example, our international baccalaureate; we visited many schools, and we had curriculum leaders who had been doing it for twenty years successfully. And so they shared their curriculum, as well as their program and studies, and everything with us.


The transformative efforts at Campbell High are paying off – literally – for students. Over the last seven years, graduating seniors have brought in more and more scholarship money to fulfill dreams of college. Last year, scholarships amounted to $7.5 million. The school is introducing innovative programs like the International Baccalaureate Diploma. It’s an elite, college-prep program with an international focus. It’s designed to help students compete in a global society. And Gail Awakuni has every reason to be proud.


This is, you know, an accomplishment for us, because it’s your highest level of rigor. And so the teachers had to work really hard. And you have their lessons that are approved, as well as they’re given feedback from an international board. So when you look at standards and global education, it’s not limited to just Hawaii or not just, you know, the Department of Education in Hawaii. Whereas it’s international. And education is global today. So for the teachers to see what’s out there, as well as for our students; and we say, you know, there’s life beyond Renton Road, there’s life beyond Ewa Beach, there’s life beyond Hawaii, as well as even the United States now. They’re saying that you know, it’s international.


So you’ve raised the expectations for students and faculty.


And that’s really the bar. And so what it’s done was for the teachers to receive training as well as input, and feedback into the curriculum; then we backward map with the underclassmen and the other subject teachers, and everything else becomes aligned. So that now leads the staff development in the school, because they know what is the goal that they’re really trying to obtain, which is an international goal.


Okay, now; there’s something you’re leaving out here. Just implementing new programs doesn’t cause a rejuvenation, and it doesn’t get people excited. What else have you done?


I think for basically for the teachers, it’s you have to show them and prove to them that it can be done. So gradually, when we had the successes of our students, then more and more people get folded into and they want to be part of the excitement and the learning. For example, our incredible college and career counselor, as well as the setup that we have at our school with the aides and the helpers that she had too, each year, the scholarship amount doubled or tripled. It’s the first year, we had a goal of $1 million. And then we thought this was crazy; you know, that it would never happen. Because prior to that, we had scholarships of about $600,000. But each year, you know, they went out and they competed, and they—last year, the scholarship amount was $7.5 million.


So first, your staff competed to get scholarship money, and then your students—


The students—


–amped it up to get the scholarships.


Preparing the students for the scholarships as well as—there you go; competition, what’s out there. And so, looking and seeing what was needed. And then it was basically looking at the coursework, as well as the colleges now; what is it that students will need to be globally competitive.


So some of these students, they’ve never had anybody in their family go to college.




They don’t really know that they can succeed. But they are believers now that they can?


Absolutely. And we have a lot of first generation students going to college. And I think that’s you know, really the excitement that we see. And we have graduates coming back and telling us that—they’ll tell the parents that they’re earning more than their parents. That’s exciting.


And the parents like that to an extent, right?


The parents are you know, surprised too that they’ve done so well. And we’re very proud; very proud that they’ve done so well and gone on you know, to be successful.


So, great feeling of pride from your students.


So great feeling of pride. And they did want to, you know, turn the school around and help the—to them, it was we reached out into the community. So pride in the community, pride for themselves as the school.


How did you reach out into the community?


We had a Kellogg’s grant, and we reached out into the community by forming a nucleus committee, and we branched out and interviewed people in the community, asking them and getting feedback. What is it that you expected and wanted of the school? And so we had lists and lists of things that we grouped them. And that did not vary from what we had interviewed our teachers, as well as the support staff at our school. And so after we gathered that data, then we put it together, and then we made our plans and programs.


So you found that everybody really wanted the same thing.


Exactly. And so really, through the Kellogg’s grant and the National Network of Educational Renewal, through University of Washington, that helped us formalize—the mantra was, you know, the responsibility for education is everybody.


Team-oriented, results-oriented and positive. What motivates Gail Awakuni? Where do her ideas come from? Where did she come from?


You’re a product of the public schools?


Yes, I am. I’m a proud graduate of Kalani High School. I always tell the students that I’m from east side of Honolulu, and now I’m on the west side of Oahu.


Do they say they can’t relate to you ‘cause you’re an eastsider?


They call me a townie. Everybody teases me, and they call me a townie. But I said, Well, the way that Ewa is developing, that’s gonna be the future town of Oahu.


True. Well, what was your public school experience?


Well, I think that, as I recollect, and I compare past to now, I know that the public school is doing far more than what I’ve experienced. But it was always a very positive experience for me. I attended Kahala Elementary, then Kaimuki Intermediate, then Kalani, and UH system. So it’s been public education all the way.


And you never felt, Oh, gee, other folks have the chance to go to private school, but not me, I gotta go public?


Well, for us, it was not even a choice, because my parents couldn’t afford it, and they made it real clear that you know, they couldn’t afford it. So we just had to make the best of whatever we had. But I never felt.


But did you feel you were losing something?


No, I never felt that I was being shortchanged or anything. I still remember my teachers; they were you know, extremely caring. And I learned.


Although inspired by her teachers, Gail Awakuni didn’t plan on becoming one – until after she had finished college and started a family.


My mother told me to go into teaching. And of course, you know, being in college, I said, No, I’m not gonna listen to her, and then I majored in arts and science, and then it was, now what are you gonna do with this job. Because it’s either nursing or teaching. So I went back to school for teaching,


You not only went to school; you got a PhD.


Well, that just happened along the way. And it was just a matter of my daughter was going through chemotherapy; she was a leukemia patient at that time. So my friend had told me, I’ve got a wonderful program, just for you, to help you through this. And at that time, I got interested in public health. But at the same time, when I saw the impact of education with children, as well as families, where really, education is the key to even good health.


To even good health?


Good health. And so that’s when I felt that I needed to get back into teaching, and spread the word in that sense, where education really is the key to life.


So the hospital could have been aha moment for you to go into nursing, but instead, it sent you right back into education.


In teaching, you see hope and joy. And I think the hospital does that also. But at the same time, you see a lot of people go there when they have illness. Whereas in teaching, you see children, and you see bright smiles every day. And that’s what I felt. You know, I needed to be there, where I like to see bright smiles every day, and help people have hope and dreams, and be a part of creating that dream for them.


Did your daughter recover from leukemia?


My daughter recovered; she’s a leukemia survivor. And she’s planning to go into nursing today.


Oh, that’s interesting.


I had some great, great moments as a teacher. And when I moved into administration, I felt that here would be a way that I probably could impact more, and really do what I felt that we could help more students. And it goes back to what I had felt at the hospital; that it’s bringing access to people, and opening more doors, because really, education is the key. Being able to read and write, compute, think, ask questions, you know, those were key. And again, it’s how to reach a larger group of individuals, so that they—we always tell parents, you know, Education here, this is your life. And what we want for you and your child would be the best opportunity, so that you go out and have a good quality of life. And really, we’re here to help and to do.


Gotta ask you a question that you might not like. You’re a graduate of the public school system. You have been employed by the public system. And yet, you chose to send a couple of your children to private school.


M-hm. I think I’ve sent two to private and one went through the public school system. And I would say that, you know, I’ve learned from sending them to private school, as well as I think that I’ve brought some of those ideas with me, to the public sector, so that we can make our school just as good as a private school. ‘Cause I believe that access, you know, that everybody should have access. And I’d like to make Campbell, you know, just as good as a private school, so that parents will have a choice. And those who can’t afford a private education can have just as good an education at Campbell High School or in a public school. And I think, you know, it’s a lot of guidance from home that is necessary, and again, looking at the needs of the individual and finding the best fit.


You’ve seen some of the private schools, you’ve seen the public schools. You really think you can even things out?


I think we can. And that’s what we’re trying to do at Campbell. It’s really networking, and taking that and trying to make things, you know, better. And even when we were interviewed at Campbell with the international baccalaureate committee, you know, the question was, Why Campbell? And Superintendent Hamamoto said, Why not Campbell? You know, and that’s what it is; why not? And so we could have just as much, and do just as well as any private school.


Indeed. Why not? Here at PBS Hawaii, we get to share stories of discovery and diversity, of local, community interest. Like this one – of Campbell High School’s growing culture of high expectations and achievement. Mahalo to Gail Awakuni, and to you, for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Until next week, a hui hou kakou!


Pat Hamamoto / Schools Superintendent (at Campbell High School, Sept. 24, 2004)

“Dr. Awakuni has brought recognition to the school through you. So you helped her realize her vision. And you are her vision. In addition to that, this past year, Dr. Awakuni also received the Tokioka Award for outstanding school principal. When they asked her, What are you going to do if we give you $15,000? Her answer was, she would give it to the school to start the AVID Program. So whatever she gets it goes back to the school. So your principal has been not only a person with vision, but she’s also a person who made that vision come alive. And she made that vision a reality.”



Gavan Daws


Original air date: Tues., June 10, 2008


Best-Selling Hawaii Author


Gavan Daws, the best-selling author of Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, Land and Power in Hawaii, Holy Man: Father Damien of Moloka‘i and many other books, plays, songs and documentary films, has just collaborated on an 1,120-page anthology, Honolulu Stories: Two Centuries of Writing.


Join Leslie Wilcox as she sits down to share stories that reveal this Australian transplant’s deep interest in, knowledge of and love for Hawai‘i, Asia and the Pacific.


Gavan Daws Audio


Download the Transcript




Aloha no and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Today, on Long Story Short, we get to share stories with a professional storyteller – best known as an author, Gavan Daws.


Australian transplant Gavan Daws was the first person to earn a PhD in Pacific history at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. The academic and teacher became the bestselling author of Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, Land and Power in Hawaii, Holy Man: Father Damien of Molokai and many other books. Now he’s collaborated on an 1,100-page anthology, Honolulu Stories: Two Centuries of Writing – full of voices of Hawai‘i.


You’re a storyteller in so many forms. Your latest form is this very hefty book with Bennett Hymer. What other ways have you told stories in your life?


Well, if it comes down to twenty-four words or less, I suppose that all of my life has really been about words and audiences.


Words is all I have; I have no other skills of any kind, either creative or financial. So it’s words; words are my currency. And I kinda grew up on the edge of the Outback in Australia, where when I was a kid, there was no radio, and where for a long time, there was no TV. And storytelling was what everybody did. And when you got old enough, which is around sixteen, you’d go into the pub two or three years below drinking age; and that was storytelling territory as well. And on top of that, I’m about five- eighths Irish, and there’s genetic storytelling in the Irish. I’ve done it in books and in stage plays and in song lyrics. And I’ve done the libretto for an opera, and I’ve done documentary films, which are not my talking, but other people’s talking. And I’m ahuge admirer of standup comedy; I just love standup comedy. So words are the way that things come to me; and on a good day, they’re the way that things come out of me.


In this anthology, Two Centuries of Writing, Honolulu Stories, among the things you include is a comedy sketch by Rap



Yeah. When we were setting up the anthology, Bennett and I made a decision that we wouldn’t limit storytelling to what most people think of as, you know, short stories or bits out of novels. We’d have scenes from plays and musicals, and operas, and we’d have Hawaiian chant, we’d have poems, we’d have song lyrics, we’d have cartoons, and we’d have standup comedy, and we’d have slam. And the all-time great standup comic of my life, and I’ve seen a lot in a lot of different places, is Rap. A genius; absolutely genius. And as I say in the introduction, he’s the youngest standup comedian who ever made me, A, fall off my chair laughing, and B, snort beer through my nose.




Nobody else has ever done that, and he could. And of all his, I think Room Service is the best; Mr. Frogtree trying to get his cheeseburger. So in Honolulu Stories, in the section about modern Waikiki, that was, of course, you know, had to have that. And so, Jon DeMello of Mountain Apple very kindly gave us permission, and it’s just a joy to have that in there. One of my big things about living here, and having hopes, my own private hopes for the place, is that more quality stuff from here can become exportable. You know, think of Iz, Brudda Iz; think of that. There’s the most local musician imaginable; who could be more local than Iz?


Going global.


And he sings a Hollywood classic from the 1930s, Over the Rainbow, and he’s got the first platinum CD from Hawai‘i, with half the sales outside Hawai‘i. And he’s in six movie soundtracks, he’s in commercials all over the world, and he’s a ring tone. The ultimate exportable, right. And that’s good quality, okay. Let’s have more of that; let’s have more of that.


Well, thank you for putting regular people in this book. I love several of them.


This particular short little essay has been the subject of a newspaper story in which you and the reporter said, Where is this writer, we’d love to know more; Mark, who was a student at Makaha Elementary School in 1981. And if I may, he wrote, My mother lives in Las Vegas, my father lives in Hawaii. I am my father’s son, and my sister is icky. Our family has small noses and soft faces. If you ask me one day, I will soar like an eagle to visit my mother.


M-m. I came across that in a collection by Eric Chock, of Bamboo Ridge, who’s been running Poetry in the Schools for a long, long time. And the poetry that he gets from little kids, you know, from Makaha or wherever; wonderful. And so, again, one of the decisions Bennett and I made was to have stuff by kids. You know, most anthologies, even the big ones, don’t do that; they don’t think kids can tell stories, you know. Kids can tell stories. So we have a couple of dozen kid poets in there from the second grade on up. And wonderful stuff from Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s learning school, Na‘au; she’s got a half a dozen poems from little kids in the book.


I like the haiku. I mean, here’s a seventeen-syllable one.




Bus from Manoa, always the same hair and dress; Japanese tutus.


Yeah. That’s part of one of the chapters that goes all around Oahu in poetry. Every district we picked up on that would take you like on a round the island tour; and that’s one of the Manoa poems.


Holoholo through writing.


Yeah; yeah.


As a UH Manoa history professor, Gavan Daws was known for holding the attention of large lecture halls of students. And this consummate storyteller weaves an entertaining, seafaring tale of how he came to land on our sunny shores.


The Reader’s Digest version of the story, which is a combination of Romeo and Juliet, and Ivan the Terrible and—

Ooh. [chuckle] Do tell.


–all sorts of things. I was escaping from Australia, rather than going to Hawai‘i. And I came on a freighter, which crossed the Pacific at five miles an hour. It was by no means a Hokule‘a voyage, you know. And I kinda fell off the ship here. And my entire preparation for Hawai‘i was to have read on the freighter, the book, From Here to Eternity. That’s what I knew about Hawai‘i.




And everything from then on, has the appearance of being intended, but in fact, was just sleepwalking and bumping into things. And that’s been my whole life. So the ship was going to Hawai‘i. If it had been going to Bulgaria, you know—




—I would have been in Bulgaria.


Bulgarian Stories.


Yeah. Right; right.


So you accidentally came here, in a sense. And then you accidentally got a PhD in Pacific History?


It was like breaking the balls on a pool table. You know, things just went everywhere. And one of ‘em went into a pocket, and that was the academic life. It could have been anything else. And it just kinda grew from there; I got offered a job, I kept the job, I got tenure, I wrote a book, and so on and so on. But I’ve also done other things outside Hawai‘i and other things other than academic work, you know, so


You—within just what, a decade or so of coming here, you’re writing a history of the Hawaiian Islands, Shoal of Time, which is it still a local bestseller after all these years?


Yeah, it is; it’s forty years in print. And still—which is amazing. Eighty percent of books disappear after a year. They’re like restaurants, you know; they fold. And I had no idea, doing that, what kind of life it would have, or even it would get published. Which you never know. And just a little bit of the history of that. Honolulu Book Shops, which was the only book shop in town in those days; they ordered twenty-four copies. And when they sold them, they didn’t reorder; they thought that was about the demand. But here it is, forty years later, and—


Its required reading in many courses.


Which I don’t want; I don’t want to be required reading. I want to be read by, my phrase, consenting adults; I want them to choose to read it.


Have you heard that in the intervening decades after the book came out, there has been some perception on the part of native Hawaiians that there’s a colonial tone here—


Oh, sure.


–in the book?


Yeah. I think every writer writes as someone of his or her own time. I certainly had no great ability beyond anybody else’s to look backward or forward, or sideways. I breathed the air that was here to breathe at that time, and wrote that. Now, in the forty years since then, and almost fifty years since the research, there’s two generations. That’s half the people living here now, A, weren’t born then, and B, weren’t born here. So the change in everything here is huge, since I started doing that. Okay. Any general history written now would be written by somebody now, looking back at then, through the eyes of now. Totally different. There wouldn’t be a sentence in this book that would be the same, if I were doing it now.


Is that right?


Oh, yeah. Or if anybody were doing it now. Now, in that forty to fifty years, we’ve now got more than thirty years of the Hawaiian renaissance. You know, think what a difference that’s made in the air that everybody breathes. Okay. The next book that’ll be done, and I wish done soon, will breathe that air. Fine; there’s always—Thomas Jefferson says, History needs to be rewritten every generation. And there’s been two generations since this; long overdue.


Author Gavan Daws has a deep connection with his adopted home. But it’s certainly not all warm and fuzzy; he knew some of his writing would be profoundly uncomfortable to some.


What do you love about Hawai‘i?


Just that it exists. I love getting up in the morning here, and going to bed here. We, my wife and I, traveled a lot, and we live in the zip code where we want to live. We’ve seen a lot of zip codes. We live exactly where we want to live; and that’s a blessing. Not a whole lot of people are fortunate enough to be able to say that. I like the food, I like the climate, I like the life. We’ve been in Paris, the City of Light, we’ve been in Tahiti, Polynesia. The light here is just magical, and so is the air. So why would you not want to live in 96822?


When you were researching Shoal of Time, how did you put yourself in mind of what, say, native Hawaiians were doing at that time, and how’d you learn to characterize certain things?


With difficulty. What I try to do with writing, and it’s not just for Shoal of Time, but anything at all. I try to keep people interested in turning the page. If you’re not readable, then what? If I put you to sleep by page ten, even if I’ve got something interesting to say on page fifty, and you don’t get there, what have I done? So first thing; be readable. And then you’ve gotta dance with nonfiction. With fiction, you can say anything to be readable; you can have, you know, sex every three pages or a mighty explosion every five, or whatever. But with nonfiction, you can’t really take those liberties. So what you’ve gotta be able to do is do that dance between readability and reliability. And that’s a dance. And it’s a solo dance; only one person’s name is on book. And everybody’s dance with readability and reliability will be different. And that’s why they’re my books; that is to say, that’s my name on the title page. But they’re only my books; there’s always room for another book, and for a better book, always. Land and Power in Hawaii. The story of power brokers and the struggle for land, from the ‘50s through the ‘80s. That was a lightning rod for discussion.


I always wondered; what kind of heat did you take from doing that book with George Cooper?


Well, George and I have now known each other for more than half George’s life, and half my life. And we collaborated on this book, and we’re still friends. And collaboration is a sometime thing; you know, a bad collaboration is worse than a bad marriage, you know. So we dreamed up Land and Power in Kuhio Grill on King Street in Mo‘ili‘ili over a beer. And we used to sit there and drink; it was one of the cheap grad student drinking places. And two things about George. One, he is one of the few people to whom I would trust my moral life; he’s an absolute straight shooter, just absolutely genuine. Secondly is, he’s the best researcher I’ve ever met in thirty-five years in academic work. No academic I’ve ever met has touched George for factual research. George is a truth-seeking missile. You aim George, and he hits the truth all the time, brings it back not blown up, but absolutely intact. So perfect collaborator. And what we wanted to do was simply describe land politics in Hawai‘i in those thirty years, and offer no judgments, just facts. And there are no factual errors in Land and Power; and there better not be, because you can get sued. Okay. If you’re gonna get sued, you get sued in the first six months. The book’s been out twenty-three years, and we haven’t been sued. So those are facts.


What do you think was the most remarkable fact that emerged from the book?


In the totality, the nonpartisan approach to land development, where you get Democratic senators and Republican businessmen, and a couple of Supreme Court justices, and two guys from organized crime, and their wives and civil servants in the same hui; that’s the big fact, the big overriding fact. And there are thousands of cases there. When we did the index, we had three thousand names in the index, two thousand nine hundred and ninety-five of whom were probably not pleased to be in the book.


Were you suggesting that there’s a big conspiracy going on?


No. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s how business and politics were done. That’s not conspiratorial.


You said were; so not done that way anymore?


If this were done again, if Land and Power were done again—and I wish it would be—there would be different players. The names would be different, but the game is very much the same. Because land is power.


And anyone who didn’t know the word “hui” knew it when your book was published.


Yes; I imagine so.

Land huis and people—




–pulling together to use advantage of some kind to acquire land.


Well, that’s not the only meaning of hui. Hui just is “together.” There are honest huis; of course, there are. You know, eighty percent of the huis in that period would have been just business.




But the edge that power gave to business is what the book is really about.


Yeah; there are a lot of people who do feel that they were made out to be money-grubbing, advantage-taking, you know, arrogant, misusing folks.




Well, this is a free country, with a free press. They are free to write their books.


You never got a serious challenge to Land and Power?


Not factual.


What kind of challenge did you get?


Well, the usual. A big drop-off in invitations. [chuckle]


People didn’t want to be seen with you?


Like that; like that, yeah. I know when I’ve read accounts of what the book presents, there’s always a reference to, This is what happened in the Democratic years.


But you’re suggesting it wasn’t a function of the party. Or the—


Oh, by no means.


or the belief.


By no means.


Its just they were the ones who were in power at the time.


Yeah. As we way in the introduction, land has always been power in Hawai‘i. Go back to the ancient times, the chiefs. The first things they did when they won a war, redistribute the land. And then you know, the Great Mahele, and all that followed that, and the missionaries coming to do good and doing well, and then the Big Five. Land has always been power, and it always will be. As Mark Twain said, you know, Invest in land, they’re not making anymore of it. Land is prestige, land is power; and therefore, land is politics.


Gavan Daws, in the introduction to his latest work, writes, “It takes a great deal of history to make a little literature,” which he quotes from Henry James. And, he says, he starts with history first.


One of the books you wrote was about Father Damien.




And I think I’ve heard you say in the past that he was an ordinary man who made some moral decisions right every time, again and again. Does that mean you don’t think he was a saint?


Yeah. Again, doing Holy Man was interesting, because I’m not a Christian. I’m not a practicing Christian, and I’m by definition not a Catholic. And I’m no more than morally average. So what would I be doing, writing a biography of a man who I came to believe is a saint? And my answer to that is simply write the best book I could. You know. But time and time again he was a really ordinary guy. He wasn’t real smart; he certainly wasn’t sophisticated. He couldn’t write very well, he wasn’t cultured. He wasn’t sensible. He didn’t—


Why do you say he wasn’t sensible?


Well, look what he did with his life. He could have risen in the church.




He could have been the Bishop in Honolulu. But look what he did. Time and time again, he does things that nobody else is prepared to do, at the risk of his physical life, in the interest of what he always called the imitation of Christ. That’s what he did. And if he isn’t a saint—I’m not an authority on the Vatican’s procedures, but if that isn’t a saint, and to die of the disease that he was looking after by me, that qualifies him, and it’s a delight to me to see that the canonization of Damien is further along than it’s ever been. And there’s quite a possibility that he will be canonized. So as I said, I just tried to write the best book I could about him. And I read in preparation every biography of Damien that there had been before, and I was amazed to find there were hundreds. He’s a world figure; he really is.


Why did you decide to write another one?


Well, again, one of my stories. All my books start in absolute ignorance; I’ve got no idea what’s gonna happen. And that one happened because of the Damien statue that stands outside the Legislature. They had a competition for that statue, and there were six finalists, and they had models of all those six in the public library. And I went and looked at them. And they didn’t look like Damien particularly, they didn’t feel like him; they could be anybody. Just as the biographies were standard, plaster biographies of a saint; they weren’t books about a person. But the last statue was the one that was chosen, astonishingly, which is Marisol’s, which is quite frightening in a kind of a way. I mean, here’s this diseased face and this black, boxy body. And I thought, my goodness. So I began to read about him. And that’s when I started reading the biographies; and none of them seemed to me to be about a human being. So at that point, for the first time in Hawai‘i’s history, the governor was Catholic, John Burns; the Speaker of the House was Catholic, Elmer Cravalho; the Chairman of the Senate was Catholic, John Hulten; and that’s when Damien was chosen to be the second great man of Hawai‘i. And I thought the second great man of Hawai‘i was worth a book. And that was the start of that. So again, it’s thirty-five years in print, now in six languages. Including Korean.


Does that give me an idea of how you’ve chosen to write the fourteen books you’ve written?


Yeah. It’s ignorance and curiosity. Another book I did—half my books have been about things other than Hawai‘i. Another book

is called Prisoners of the Japanese, and it’s about allied POWs taken by the Japanese in World War II. And that was a horrifying book to do; just dreadful. But that started—I was in a bar in Waikiki, where I sometimes am, and down the bar was a guy talking about being a prisoner of the Japanese. And what he was saying was unbelievable to me; I just couldn’t believe it. So I went down and talked to him. And he talked, and I talked with him for a long time. And he introduced me to others, and others, and others, and others, and you know, ten years later and couple of hundred interviews later on four continents and about two thousand cubic feet of archival material, you know, there’s a book. So they all start like that.


Seems like two you’ve mentioned started over alcohol.


[chuckle] I said I was mostly Irish.


[chuckle] You’ve been on bestseller lists, and you’re an academic whose books have been reviewed by the New York Times, which doesn’t happen to most academics, because they like to point that out. Would you talk about that a bit? You’ve drawn the attention of major reviewers and major audiences and readerships.



I did a calculation a couple years back. Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every forty minutes since 1968. And you used the word academic about me; I am a recovering academic. Put it that way. I never wanted to write like an academic.


And you didn’t.


No; and for cause. Because bless them; for all their virtues, most academics do not write to be read. They write to demonstrate that they know something. That’s a very different thing. And they write for other academics.


Does that mean other academics might consider your work lighter than others, because it is, quote, commercial?


They’re welcome to. Perfectly welcome to. But I don’t see any necessary contradiction between writing responsibly and readably.


You received the first ever Regents Medal for excellence in teaching at the University of Hawai‘i. I know, because I was around at the time that students lined up for your classes; your classes got filled really quickly. What do you think it was about your teaching that drew them?


Well, back off a little bit. I taught in Varsity Theater in Mo‘ili‘ili, which has just been torn down, you know. And what I taught was a compulsory course; it was freshman history. And so that course was given the lowest person on the totem pole, ‘cause nobody wanted to do it.


But there were several sections of it.


True. But I got the heaviest load, because I was the lowest. And I was immigrant labor, and so I could be given the lowest paid, worst job. And teaching freshpersons in Varsity Theater, compulsory course, was the worst job. So I taught four sections of eight hundred and fifty-two freshpersons at a time. That’s thirty-four hundred a semester; that’s sixty-eight hundred a year, with summer school and night school.


And I taught that for ten years; so that’s more than seventy thousand students. And that’s how I got the first medal; it was for quantity, doing volume.


You don’t think it was for doing an ordinary job extraordinarily well?


Well, I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know of a teacher that says that. But yeah; again, it goes back to the same thing as writing. When you’re talking to a certain kind of audience, know who you’re talking to and talk to them. Don’t talk to them the way you would talk to a different kind of audience. And above all, don’t talk to yourself. When you’re in front of eight hundred and fifty people with a microphone, talk to who’s out there. I think that had something to do with it.


Gavan Daws does everything he can to know his subject and his audience. I’d like to thank you and author and historian Gavan Daws for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Thank you also for your logging on to and sending us your comments and suggestions. We enjoy hearing from you. Please join me again next week for another Long Story Short. A hui hou kakou!


I’m really interested in history, and I’ve read all the quotes that I know you’re familiar with, as far as history. George Bernard Shaw; We learn from history that we learn nothing from history. Kurt Vonnegut; History is merely a lot of surprises, it can only prepare us to be surprised, yet again. And you’ve dedicated much of your life to history.


George Santayana, the philosopher; Those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it. I kinda believe that. But I also believe that there’s no such thing as definitive history. No matter how complete something is, it’s not definitive; it changes with perception, with time. And that’s why it needs to be rewritten all the time.


Catherine Payne


Original air date: Tues., May 17, 2011


Creating Stability for Hawaii’s Teenagers


In this edition of Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox introduces us to Catherine Payne, who recenly retired after a long careeer as one of Hawaii’s most respected educators. After spending her childhood moving from place to place with her Navy pilot father, Payne spent her adult life working to create stability for Hawaii teenagers – including many who lacked adults they could depend on. During a career that spanned more than 35 years, she worked as a teacher, vice principal and principal, never taking on the easy jobs. Instead, she led some of the toughest schools on Oahu and nurtured students with not only academic, but languages, socio-economic and behavioral challenges.


Catherine Payne Audio


Download the Transcript




Farrington has to be a school, and the others schools that I worked in also, that does more than just provide education. We have to take care of many other aspects of the students’ lives. I just saw people that were really willing to do that.


Coming up next on Long Story Short, a woman who grew up in a close, stable family, and who devoted her career to young people in need of stability and support. Just ahead, this story of award-winning principal, Catherine Payne.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television programproduced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, we’ll get to know retired public school principal, Catherine Payne. She always wanted to teach, and she wasn’t satisfied with educating Hawaii’s middleclass students. She wanted to work with the young people who needed her attention the most. Starting with her first official teaching job in the 1970s, Payne took on some of the toughest assignments Hawaii’s public school system had to offer. As a principal, she steered thousands of students and teachers through tumultuous middle and high school years. In her thirty-five-plus-year career with the DOE, Catherine Payne was recognized by her peers and by national education groups as one of the stars of Hawaii’s public schools. This educator spent her own childhood on the move as part of a military family.


What was it like, moving again, and again, and again, as a youngster?


Well, I think what was stable about my life was my family. And so, as we moved, and we always drove, my mother always had lots of books for me to read. It was just a time when our family was always together. We would move in the summers most of the time, and get up at—this was before air conditioning in cars, so we’d get up at two or three in the morning and drive until noon, and we’d stop at a motel with a swimming pool. My father did mental arithmetic as we were driving along, so it was just really delightful. And that was the time when I was an only child, before my sister came along.


But you must have made some good friends, and then having to pull yourself away.


I think it wasn’t hard for me until I was a teenager. And it just was our way of life, and we moved, and we sometimes moved—I went to three different first grades. We moved a lot. I think I learned to get along with all kinds of people. And it really helped me as a teacher, because I was used to being flexible, and just adjusting to whatever circumstances we had. My parents modeled that, because they also had to leave their friends and move, and make new relationships. And yet, they stayed in touch with people. And so whenever we moved, we were always seeing old friends, and family that were all over the country. So it I had a whole world that was my neighborhood.


I’m surprised that there was never, until high school … rebellion or resistance, or unhappiness, or disappointment.


I’m sure there probably was some of that. [CHUCKLE]   My parents were fairly strict in what they expected of me. And yet, it was also a very loving and interesting life, too. My mother was alone most of the time, because my dad … because of his career, he was gone about half the time. It was just a very calm upbringing. I didn’t have siblings to fight with until I was thirteen when my sister came along, and we didn’t fight too much ‘cause she was just a baby.


What did your father do? Where was he off to?


Well, he was a career Navy man, and he was on ships a lot, because he was a pilot. And so, he was flying with squadrons. And I remember so many memories in my life were just getting ready to meet the ship, or say goodbye to the ship, and sending tapes. But he was always sort of far away. He was in Vietnam, and then when he came to Hawaii, he was home. By then, he was living at home with the family, and that was I think, at a time when we really got to know my father as a teenager.


Because he was gone that much.


He was gone quite a lot. And then, I was in boarding school my last two years also, because during those two years, they moved three times, and the last time was to Hawaii.


How did you get to Hawaii? Was it through one of your father’s assignments?


Yes. Hawaii was his last tour of duty with the Navy, and they moved over. We thought it would just be one year, and then he extended into a different job. And I had started college at the University of California up at Davis, and I thought, I should just spend a year in Hawaii, because it’s an opportunity I won’t ever have again. So I came here during my sophomore year, and never looked back. They actually stayed and retired here, and then in the late 80s, retired again to Texas. But I was firmly planted here.


What made you stay? What was it?


I just loved the cultural diversity. I made very good friends right away, and I just felt like this was a good place to be. But I knew that if I couldn’t find a teaching job in Hawaii—and when I graduated in the mid-70s, it was very difficult—my plan was to leave, because I knew I had to go somewhere and be a teacher.


Why did you know you had to be a teacher?


[CHUCKLE] I always knew I was gonna be a teacher, from the time I was a very little girl.


Do you remember anything that prompted that?


I think I was surrounded by teachers in my family. My grandmother had been a teacher, I had aunts and uncles who had been teachers. And as a reader, I loved so many stories about teachers. I read about teachers in the 18th century, and the 19th century, and teachers that did heroic things in the ghetto, and I just thought, that’s for me. I felt like the right place for me would be to teach in an area where kids were struggling. I did my student teaching at Kalani, and I loved it. I had a wonderful experience. But I felt my calling was either on the neighbor islands or in the country. And I was so fortunate to be hired in Nanakuli, and that’s where I stayed for nine years as a teacher.


Why the more marginalized kids?


I’m not exactly sure, because it certainly wasn’t my life growing up. But it was my life through what I read, and the kinds of people I admired were doing things like that. I thought about joining the Peace Corps, I thought about joining Vista. I came of age in the 60s, when that was a consciousness, and I just felt like I had something to give, to help. And the right things just happened along my path to make that happen.


Even for all your travels, you led a fairly sheltered existence in a stable family environment. What was it like getting to know some very tough situations in family in Nanakuli?


The main experience of Nanakuli for me was the welcoming aloha from the Hawaiian community. They taught me so much. The children there, from the little ones to the high school students, were just so delightful, and so eager to participate in life, and to learn. And the struggles that the families had were part of it, but it wasn’t the main focus of their existence. There was so much good that they had to share. It was kind of interesting, because I became the advisor for the Hawaiian Club in my second year. And the students and I thought that was pretty funny. We traveled to the neighbor islands, we did dances and performances, and they would introduce me to their kupuna. And I just fell in love. That was what gave me the foundation for the rest of my career.


And yet, the struggles were very much a part of who your students were.


They were. And I really saw my place. Part of it was to help them to see that they could lift themselves above that, and that education was the way for that to happen. Many, many of my students, who I am still in touch with, have gone on to do great things. They’ve become teachers, they’ve become doctors, they’ve become lawyers, or they’ve become wonderful family members that have stayed in the community and are still helping. Some are teachers at Nanakuli High School.


With a calling for teaching, you later went into administration. What was that like? ‘Cause it really does seem like two very different job requirements.


Yes. And it wasn’t ever my career goal to be an administrator. But what happened through my time at Nanakuli and through the principals that I had there, were opportunities to be a teacher leader. They saw something in me, before I saw it in myself. And that taught me that in the role of a leader, that’s part of your job, is to see things in your teachers and in the people who work for you, that they may not have discovered yet, and give them opportunities develop that side of themselves. So I kind of just was eased into administration. And my principal asked me to consider going through the training program, and I did. And then Waianae High School opened up as an opportunity for me to be a vice principal, and that just seemed like another good place for me to go.


Isn’t the vice principal usually the one who dispenses discipline?


Discipline is part of the role, but it’s really relationships and helping the students to know that you’re there for them, and you have expectations, and you really just want to help make their school experience positive.


So somehow, they knew that even though you were disciplining them, that you cared about them?


I believe they did. It’s not just the kids that you’re responsible for when you’re an administrator. You have to take care of the adults. Teachers need to feel supported, and they need to feel energized by the administrators. The Waianae teachers were just … they also taught me so much about relationships and caring, and how to take care of kids.


And yet, from the outer world, I mean, outside Waianae, Nanakuli, there are a lot of perceptions of the place as being scary and bad, and very, very troubled.


Yeah. In every school that I’ve worked in, that’s been a perception that people have had. Because when I taught in Nanakuli, and Waianae, and then Olomana and Farrington, people would always say, Oh, my goodness, it must be so hard there, you have all these difficulties. When you’re in that school, that’s not what you feel the most. It’s supporting these people, the teachers and the students, and helping them to see a vision that is higher than maybe what they had imagined for themselves.


Catherine Payne served at Waianae High School just two and a half years, until a new daunting assignment came her way, the job of principal of Olomana School in Kailua. Olomana is actually several schools for young people who aren’t making it in regular school. They have academic, social, or mental health challenges. Some have landed in juvenile detention or corrections. It’s a school for at risk and delinquent youngsters, young people essentially, a school of last resort.


It just fit again with my real conviction that we have to take care of these students while they’re still in school, and help them to find a different path. Because if we don’t do that, the cost to society, and to them as individuals, is gonna be really, really great. The teachers that were at Olomana inspired me so much, because they were teachers that would see a little bit of goodness in every child, and try to make that little bit grow, and grow. Kids need to have some adult in their life that they know cares about them. So it really requires a special person to be a counselor or a teacher, or an aide in a school like Olomana, or Nanakuli, or Waianae, or Farrington. Because you’re working with kids who may not have that in their personal life, in their family life. So we have to be willing to go that extra step.


Now, some would say, Oh, if only we’d caught them earlier. What can you do with seventh through twelve grades? What works?


What works is giving them hope. And I think for many children, even at the age of twelve and thirteen, they’ve started to lose hope. They see their parents in trouble, they see their siblings and their cousins. So it’s finding that little crack that you can get into, and give them hope. And we created different programs for the kids that stayed with us, where graduation could be a hope. And for so many kids who are in the dropout mentality, just thinking of graduation as a possibility changed their whole being. And we began to recognize these students, we had graduation ceremonies when they completed their requirements. These were kids that never, ever dreamed of graduation. And that’s so important for these kids.


Did you ever get physically threatened?


At Waianae, I did have an incident where perhaps I was a little too green, but there was a student who was intoxicated. And I was out patrolling the campus, and she went into the boys’ bathroom, so I just sort of followed her in to get her to come back out. And she did assault me, and tore my sweater, I remember. And she was arrested, and we did go to court. I wasn’t really hurt.


Did it make you gun shy, though?


No, it didn’t. ‘Cause I knew I wasn’t gonna be hurt seriously by her, and security came pretty quickly, so I just sort of stood my ground. The funny thing that happened shortly after that, I went to Olomana, where she then was. [CHUCKLE] And so, we met up again and made friends. But that was the only time.


When you’re dealing with such a troubled population, do you feel like your work will never be done, or you can never do enough?


Absolutely. You can’t ever do enough. You just do what you can do. We talk about planting seeds all the time. You’re planting seeds that may not germinate for quite a while, but you still keep doing it, never giving up.


In 1995, after ten years at Olomana, Catherine Payne accepted the job that would come to define her career, principal of Governor Wallace Rider Farrington High School. At the time, it was the largest high school in the State, with about twenty-five hundred students, including many immigrants just learning English.


As principal, you may be the top person at the school, but it doesn’t mean you’re in control, because there are so many factors and constituencies. What’s that like, when you have to maintain order, but you really don’t have all of the authority to do so?


I think one of the things that all principals realize is that you never know how your day is going to be. People that try to help us with organizing our time, and they talk about scheduling all these things, they really have no idea what a principal does. Because you don’t know, when you walk into the office, who’s gonna be standing there that needs to have some support. A principal of a large school, as Farrington was, cannot do it by himself for herself.


Twenty-five hundred students, staff of three hundred. Where do you find all the time to take care of all of these things, accreditation, and all of the things that are part of the job?


If you really sit down and list all the things, which I didn’t do until I was ready to retire, ‘cause I was doing it for the next principal, it’s just overwhelming. You can’t imagine doing all of that. And yet, when you’re in that day-to-day living of it, you just do it. You don’t do much else in your life, but you do that.


At times in the campus life of Farrington, gangs have been worse or better. I don’t know what it was like when you first arrived there.


Well, when I first got there, we were actually coming out of a really tough period with gangs. There had been an incident where a student was quite severely beaten the previous year.


I remember stabbings in the parking lot at the time.


Yeah. There had been a shooting. The late 80s and the early 90s were really, really rough times. Adult Friends for Youth helped us, the YMCA on campus helped us. We have so many partners in the community that, while we did have incidents where gangs kind of would burst forth at different times, it never felt out of control. We have social workers on campus that actually have a peace council made up of different gang members that would talk about their problems before it escalated into conflict. So just different ways of working with the students, not to eliminate that social phenomena that is pretty much ingrained in the community.


There was that notable period where Hawaii’s governor, chief of police, and city prosecutor were all Farrington grads. Keith Kaneshiro in his previous incarnation as prosecutor, Mike Nakamura, police chief, and Ben Cayetano as governor.


And they’ve all given back to Farrington. Ben Cayetano came and taught a class.


What was the class about?


He taught a class, and it was a political science type of group, similar to what he was teaching at the University. He wanted to give back and experience our students, and so he came and kind of co-taught the class with a teacher. Just an incredible opportunity for our students to experience him, and his wealth knowledge. I think it also opened his eyes a little bit to how challenging it is to be a teacher.   [CHUCKLE] This school is not just Farrington, or just for the immediate group of students. This belongs to the community, it belongs to alumni, and they need to continue to support it. And they have.


Do you think principals need to be educators? Can you just have a master of business degree?


I think a principal needs to be an educator. I think it would be great if you had a partner in the school that was a business manager, so that they could take care of whether the bills were being paid on time, and the budget. You have a fifteen-million-dollar budget that you’re dealing with, and I often wished I had some business background for that. But great educators have a passion for what they do, which is education. And if you are missing that reason for being in a school, that passion for helping children grow, then I think you’re missing a piece of what is essential as a leader of education.


Along the way, did you see some really special interactions between people that perhaps changed others’ lives?


It changed my life, watching teachers that so inspire me. What really would inspire me was when you would see something that was a problem or a tragedy, or some kind of situation with our students, and then to see how the staff would just coalesce to make that situation better. We had some suicides at Farrington, we had some other deaths of students, or deaths of students’ family members, and how does the school come together to support those that are left. We had a student once who was the oldest in his family, he was a junior at the time. And he had siblings at the middle school and the elementary school, and his mother had just given birth and had cancer, and died within days after giving birth. His father had to keep his job, and there wasn’t anyone in the family who could take care of this infant. And so, our eleventh grade student was going to have to drop out of school to take care of the infant. And his counselor found out about it, and the first thing that happened—‘cause it was at Christmas too, is they did a huge drive to support the family, and gathering supplies for the baby, and Christmas gifts for the younger siblings. And then, over the Christmas holidays, trying to figure out how we could have this child still come to school, and take care of the baby at the same time. And at that time, we had a childcare program for infants for our pregnant girls, and for the girls that had given birth. It was a contracted program, but we were able to get them to agree that even though it wasn’t his baby, he could bring his younger brother at six weeks, and come to school with his baby brother. And he was able to go ahead and graduate, because of that. It’s one of the things that makes Farrington so special, is that we don’t want anybody to fall through the cracks.


I can tell you are a believer, you’re an idealist, and yet, you have to be pragmatic to do your job and to be an educator. How do you reconcile the two?


Well, you never lose your idealism, because that’s what gave me the hope to keep going. But, there is the reality of the day-to-day operations, and how you keep the school running, and all the different people that depend on the leaders to take care of things. And that’s just a balancing act that I think any leader of an organization has to manage. I believe that a good leader doesn’t feel like they have to have all the power. They really have to give it away and empower others. And that’s how a system continues when you’re not there. And that was my goal. I used to tell them even years before I retired that if the school didn’t continue on and grow, and get better after I left, it meant that I wasn’t a very good leader.


Why did you retire?


I was actually out of school for about three months, because I was ill. And during that time, I think it gave me moments of reflection where I began to think about what other things that I wanted to do, and also know that maybe I didn’t have quite the energy to keep up that pace that’s required at Farrington. And Farrington deserves somebody that had that. I was there fifteen years, so who’s gonna do the next fifteen? And it just felt like it was the time to step back. It was hard. [CHUCKLE] I knew it was the right thing to do, but I’m still feeling connected to Farrington, and I think I probably always will. That’s the school where I’ve spent the most time of my life.


Are you good at doing less?


Not really. [CHUCKLE] I definitely want to keep my mind busy, and I want to keep involved in education. I think up until my last day on Earth, that’ll be what I’m most concerned and involved with. I have tried to step back, and see things in a different perspective. And I think that’s how I’m looking at the whole educational system now, is more from the balcony, instead of right in the middle of the fray. I know times are very hard right now, and I hope people will be patient with public education and public educators, because it’s just a really tough time. And the people who are working in those schools, in all our schools, are trying really hard to do a good job. It’s tough.


In retirement, do you have a different view of the job of principal? Have you shifted in your outlook at all?


I think, as I look at it now, it’s even harder than a year ago when I was there. It’s a very, very difficult and challenging time for public educators. And my heart goes out to all of them.


Have you talked with some of your former students to find out what it was, if they knew of any particular thing that was done that kind of turned things over for them?


The students that I still hear from, they just remember the teachers that were kind to them, and teachers that continued to believe in them and tell them, you know, you can do this, you’re gonna be okay. Maybe that’s what inspired them, when they were twenty-five or thirty, to go back to school. You just never know how you influence a child. I had a student come up to me recently in the shopping center out at Kahala Mall, who came running up, and he was an adult now, and he had been at Olomana. He recognized me, and he just wanted me to know that he was doing well. And he was in his mid-thirties, he introduced me to his wife, he has a family, he has a good job. And he just said, I remember you, and you helped us, and I just want you to know I’m okay now. And that’s what we live for. [CHUCKLE]


Catherine Payne retired in 2010, after fifteen years at Farrington and more than thirty-five in Hawaii’s public schools. She intends to stay active in education and community service. Whatever she does next, Catherine Payne remains a role model for Hawaii educators. Her work will live on in the teachers she has mentored and inspired, and in former students who are succeeding beyond expectations because they had a teacher or principal who believed they could. 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


When they become difficult, it’s still being that same—coming back and saying, I’m still here for you. You can be obnoxious and you can swear at me, and I’m not gonna write you off. I’m still gonna be here for you. And that takes a special kind of adult that can do that.