Todd Chow-Hoy recently began his new role as Punahou’s Junior School principal. Prior to assuming this key leadership position, he served the School for more than two decades as a math teacher, department chair, team leader, administrative dean and most recently, as Junior School assistant principal.
Early in his career, Chow-Hoy taught at Malcolm X Academy, a predominantly African American charter school in Detroit, which he now regards as one of the pivotal experiences of his life.
We caught up with Chow-Hoy as the 2020 – 21 school year was coming to a close.
Why did your experience in Detroit have such a profound impact on you?
Before I left Hawai‘i to go to college in the Midwest, I had only ever left the Islands to go on a family trip to Disneyland in the fourth grade. I wanted a really different experience, and fortunately, my parents were supportive, so I went to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and then to Michigan for graduate school. I really enjoyed being in the Midwest because of the different cultures, and although there are differences, I found that kids are kids and they crave the same kind of connections regardless of their background. I opened up and embraced the differences, and that has shaped how I approach teaching and working with kids today.
As you start this new role as Junior School Principal, what are your hopes and goals for the school year?
As we begin our return to normal or the new normal, I want to be reflective. I don’t think we should automatically assume we’re going to return to exactly how things were before the pandemic.
I think we’ve learned a lot about how kids can learn and what their capacities are for change and resiliency, as well as our own capacities. I want to reflect on what really worked and how we can apply those things to our current reality. I think there are a number of things we did that we initially didn’t think we or the kids could do, and we were pleasantly surprised.
I’m also hoping to grow our K – 8 instructional vision, which includes making learning more personalized. I want us to provide experiences for kids that are personalized wherever they are on the learning spectrum. We also want assessments to be authentic and meaningful, so we are considering ways we can ask students to demonstrate their understanding that goes beyond a paper-and-pencil assessment or some kind of standardized assessment that we had been giving in the past. We want teaching to be reflective, and always be thinking of how things are going and what can change. I want to continue to build on these guiding principles, but also apply some of the things we’ve learned, continually improving our practice to do what’s best for kids.
What kinds of emotions are you feeling as you take on this prominent role?
It runs the gamut. I’m so grateful, excited and humbled by the opportunity, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous. I’m feeling the same way many folks would feel when they start a new job. I have butterflies in my stomach, both from excitement and from not knowing what’s going to happen. That’s what keeps me on my toes and keeps me learning, questioning and wondering.
You’ve worked closely with Paris Priore-Kim ’76, who just retired as Junior School principal. How did she impact you as an educator?
My friendship with Paris dates back to 1999, my first year at Punahou. We connected instantly, with similar personalities, teaching styles and approaches to working with students. She continues to show me how to lead with grace, lean into challenging situations and difficult conversations. I’ve learned so much just by watching and observing how she interacts with people. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to be mentored by her, and I’ll admit I have gigantic shoes to fill, but at the end of the day, I can only be myself. Still, in the back of my mind, she’s always going to be the Jiminy Cricket that’s on my shoulder.
When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?
It’s just my wife and me and our dog. We’re simple people. We like shopping, watching videos and just spending time together. We love traveling, and we’re also both Disney fans. It’s a bucket list goal for us to travel to all the different Disney parks around the world. We’ve been to three so far, so we’re halfway there.