Key Priorities for the Year Ahead

A Message from President Mike Latham ‘86

At Punahou, we have the wonderful opportunity to innovate from a position of strength. While all schools have been affected by the pandemic and the economic instability it has generated, Punahou has navigated this challenging period remarkably well. We have continued to protect the health of all who learn and work on our campus, and we have delivered an outstanding, world-class education thanks to the great generosity of our many alumni, faculty and staff, donors and friends of the School. As I explained to our students at our opening Convocation in August, we are all the beneficiaries of the generations of teachers, staff, students and families across the world who brought forward their vision, talents, energy and dedication and found a home here at Kapunahou.

Grateful for our past, we are also deeply engaged in discussions about our future. During the past two years, Punahou has launched a new strategic planning process designed to define key priority areas, set forward-looking goals and determine how best to measure our progress. Given the rapid pace of change, instead of framing a single five-year or 10-year plan, we are pursuing a data-informed, iterative approach that will result in annual action plans that can be modified in response to emerging needs and perspectives. Through the deliberation of several working groups of faculty, staff and administrators, and with the guidance and support of our Board of Trustees, we have framed several key priorities for the year ahead.

First and foremost, we want to define and develop the toolkit to enable every student to be an inquiry led, lifelong learner. The shifting landscape of higher education, dramatic changes in the future of work, and global challenges to prosperity, security and sustainability all require that we think carefully about how we prepare students for the next steps in their lives. Their capacity to learn, relearn and adapt to novel opportunities and risks will be essential as they go forward to contribute in meaningful ways to their communities. It is vitally important for us to define the key capacities and habits of mind that will enable them to thrive as they enter a world quite different than the one where their parents came of age.

Some of these, of course, are familiar and enduring liberal arts attributes, including the ability to think critically, write effectively, frame a compelling verbal argument, evaluate evidence and engage in quantitative analysis. Others, however, are more reflective of a world shaped profoundly by global interconnection and technological change, including the ability to collaborate in teams, think across cultural borders, and draw knowledge from multiple fields and bring it to bear on authentic, real-world problems ranging from public health to food security, human migration or climate change.

As we define our K – 12 learning objectives, we are also engaged in thinking about how we best support the innovative teaching and faculty development to promote them, including opportunities in project based learning, design thinking, community service and student entrepreneurship. A Punahou education has never rested solely within the walls of a classroom, and we must continue to give students a sense of the relevance of what they learn and the difference they can make in the world.

Second, we are deeply concerned with caring for the whole student. Punahou has always graduated students who are academically well-prepared, ready to handle the intellectual demands of college. But we must also ensure that our students are socially and emotionally prepared for their next steps. In my previous work as a college dean and vice president, I was often struck by how many brilliant, well- prepared students were remarkably fragile. In situations of uncertainty and ambiguity, faced with unfamiliar pressures, they often struggled mightily. Many of us, of course, learn to manage stress and anxiety the hard way, through painful trial and error. These crucial skills, however, can be taught. Starting with kindergarten and continuing through high school, we are now deploying a model for developing emotional intelligence to give our students vital tools to build their self-understanding, establish meaningful social relationships, learn to seek help when needed and take better care of their overall health.

An essential part of this also centers on the work to ensure that all students reach their full potential in an environment free of abuse, whether it’s bullying, harassment, neglect or sexual misconduct. Earlier this year, we produced an integrated plan for student safeguarding that stresses Punahou’s commitment to respond immediately and effectively to any allegations of misconduct and to pursue the deeper work necessary to build a culture in which abuse or misconduct are far less likely to occur. When parents enroll their students at Punahou, they are entrusting us with their children, and we must do everything possible to be worthy of that trust in our classrooms, athletic fields, music ensembles, theatre and dance spaces, and everywhere else that our students seek to pursue their gifts and talents.

Third, we are engaged in serious planning about Punahou’s enduring contributions to our community. As we continue to enroll students who reflect the tremendous diversity of Hawai‘i, we must ensure that they enjoy the profound sense of inclusion and belonging to thrive and make the most of what Punahou has to offer. Decades of research tell us that the most creative teaching and learning happens when individuals of widely varied backgrounds tackle problems together, drawing on each other’s strengths. This has long been a compelling part of Punahou’s history and a benefit for every student, and we are eager to sustain the financial aid that has allowed Punahou to remain need-blind in admissions, giving us the opportunity to recruit children of great promise regardless of their family’s circumstances. We also seek opportunities to enroll, mentor and support more students who will be the first in their families to go to college, creating pathways to social mobility and improved life chances for generations to come.

We are also working hard to support our community’s commitments to sustainability. Through innovative building design and solar technology, Punahou has made great progress toward a net zero campus energy footprint. Our next steps will involve strategy and goal setting in the areas of transportation, water, waste and food. Finally, we are eager to engage and collaborate with public schools, learning from each other’s experiences and establishing strong partnerships for mutual benefit.

This is an exciting time to be at Punahou, and I am very grateful to our whole school community for their work in thinking about our School’s promise. As we approach our 200th anniversary, we have a wonderful chance to lean into the future, and I am looking forward to sharing and developing key elements of our vision with you.

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