Sheena Alaiasa named National Middle Level Principal of the Year

Lauren Williams's picture
Monday, September 9, 2013

Sheena Alaiasa, principal of Samuel Wilder King Intermediate School in Kaneohe, HI, has been named the 2014 MetLife/NASSP National Middle Level Principal of the Year. The award was announced today at a surprise assembly attended by Governor Neil Abercrombie, State Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, students, teachers, district staff members, and lawmakers. Alaiasa will be honored during a black-tie gala on September 20 in Washington, DC, to lead into National Principals Month.

When the New Zealand native took the reins in 2008 at King Intermediate--or "King Zoo" as it was better known to the local community because of its reputation for disorder and poor academics--the school's scores were spiraling downward after several years of restructuring. By 2012, Alaiasa had led the school out of restructuring and into statewide recognition with a STRIVE HI Award as one of seven schools statewide to have made significant gains by closing the achievement gap.

Alaisa attributes the school’s success in large part to a culture that values people—students, teachers, and community members. The culture is reflected in the school’s motto SAM—Student Achievement Matters—an acronym adopted from the first name of the school’s namesake Gov. Samuel Wilder King. To underscore the importance of achievement, Alaiasa instituted an advisory program with assigned educational assistants to ensure a personalized learning environment, consistent with the Breaking Ranks Framework for School Improvement. Her personalized approach extends to teachers as well, with whom she regularly engages in critical conversations about instruction that promotes student learning. And while the faculty relies heavily on data to gauge progress and improve instruction, Alaiasa regularly encourages teachers to put “names to faces and faces to the data” to ensure that conversations focus on the individual child.

"Mrs. Alaiasa has ‘grown’ a staff and student body that lives and breathes the school motto, Student Achievement Matters,” said Lea E. Albert, Complex Area Superintendent of the Castle/Kahuku Complex Area of the Windward Oahu School District. “She knows all her students by name. She has also successfully elevated the aspirations and achievement of everyone at King."

Her approach does indeed appear to work. Despite a high rate of poverty (more than 50% of King students receive free or reduced-price meals), the school boasts an attendance rate of 94%. Math proficiency for all populations increased at least 30 percentage points from 2010–12, and reading proficiency levels increased 15 percentage points schoolwide during that same period, with a 23-points increase for economically disadvantaged students.

“Changing a school’s culture is essential if any other real school improvement is going to take hold,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “That tenet is central to Breaking Ranks school improvement and is demonstrated in the remarkable work Sheena Alaiasa has done to create a safe, personalized environment in which all students feel welcome and valued.”

"We applaud Sheena Alaiasa for her leadership in engaging the teachers, parents, and students at King Intermediate School,” said Derrick Kelson, vice president, MetLife. “Her efforts respect the Hawaiian culture of family while encouraging students to fulfill their potential and create a brighter future for the community."

“It is important to recognize outstanding school leadership,” added Dennis White, vice president of Corporate Contributions for MetLife. “The MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year Program acknowledges the crucial role of principals as leaders and individuals who go above and beyond to make their schools the best they can be for students, teachers, and communities.”

The national principal of the year search began in early 2013 as each state principals association selected its state principal of the year. From this pool of state award winners, a panel of judges selected three middle level and three high school finalists. The national middle level winner and the national high school winner, to be named in September, were then selected.

The two national award winners will each receive a grant of $5,000. Grants must be used in the school to improve learning (e.g. a special school project or professional development). NASSP and MetLife are strongly committed to supporting the visions of unsung school leaders. Each year the MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year program focuses attention on the outstanding work principals do in middle level and high schools across the country.

Alaiasa is the second school leader from Hawaii to be named a national principal of the year, following Gail Awakuni, then-principal of James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, who was named MetLife/NASSP National High School Principal of the Year in 2005.

For more information about the program and winners, please visit www.nassp.org/poy.

About NASSP

NASSP is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and more than 45 countries around the world. The association provides research-based professional development and resources, networking, and advocacy to build the capacity of middle level and high school leaders to continually improve student performance. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development as well, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.

About MetLife Resources

MetLife Resources is a division of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MLIC"), a MetLife company. MLIC is a subsidiary of MetLife Inc., a leading global provider of insurance, annuities, and employee benefit programs, serving 90 million customers. Through its subsidiaries and affiliates, MetLife holds leading market positions in the United States, Japan, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. For more information, please visit www.metlife.com/mlr.