Laurie Luczak '80 (Principal at Hokulani Elementary)
Laurie Luczak ’80 is a local leader, educator, and administrator born and raised on the island of ʻOahu. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and Master of Education in Teaching, both from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a licensed secondary education teacher. After completing her undergraduate degree, she worked in the private sector for insurance brokerage homes and companies. But through encouragement from peers and even Queen Emma Preschool teachers, she began her career in education. After becoming involved in the GEAR-UP program at Farrington High School as their Program Coordinator, Laurie continued with Farrington High School as a teacher for the next ten years. She moved on to serve as the Vice Principal at Kalihi Kai Elementary for four years and is now leading the faculty and staff at Hokulani Elementary as their Principal in her sixth consecutive school year. We were honored to sit down and talk with her about her experiences and the future of education as an educator and leader during the time of COVID-19.
In all your years of teaching and working with Hawaiʻi’s keiki, what are two pieces of advice you would give to young educators starting their careers? Especially now during the pandemic?
Respond with grace and understanding and to live your philosophy of education.
Of all your achievements throughout your career, which role has been your favorite and why?
Teaching, for sure, has been the most fun. There are upsides to both teaching and being a school administrator, but my most vibrant and heartfelt stories are from when I was a classroom teacher and student-centered.
What is your favorite thing about being a principal?
The responsibilities are very different between the roles with both perks and challenges but not having to spend my nights and weekends assessing student work and updating my grade book is probably my favorite thing!
What is one of the most challenging things about being a principal?
Personnel issues for sure because it’s about people. My role as a principal is to support and care about my faculty and staff so that they are able to care for our students. It’s hard when people do not fulfill those responsibilities, especially if they work day to day with children. Even if everyone is doing an excellent job with meeting their responsibilities and allowing students to flourish ... knowing how to maximize people’s strengths, responding to philosophical differences, communication styles, learning styles, etc. is challenging.
Did you ever think your career journey would take you to where you are today?
No. Not at all. This is my second career and I was strongly encouraged to go into education by my children’s teachers at Queen Emma Preschool. There were a couple of parents in my children’s classes, who were teachers, who encouraged me to the point of giving me names of people at UH to speak with and explained the different programs of study. When I started my first year as a teacher, 2003, I really just wanted to be in a classroom. But my principal told me towards the end of my first year, that I needed to go into school leadership, eventually.
How did The Priory prepare you to become the strong, successful woman you are today?
When I went to The Priory, we still had nuns, went to chapel with chapel caps, and stopped at Noon, when the bell tolled, to say a portion of the Angelus prayer. We would take out our card and read it aloud until we memorized it. Being centered spiritually is something that is very much a part of how I make decisions, problem-solve, etc. From that spiritual core comes the belief that good will triumph over evil, to believe and be hopeful, and to be grateful. Another element that I derived from being a daughter of the Priory, is the freedom I had of being with other females and not being a “second class” citizen. All girls could aspire to leadership roles, play sports, be in the band, do well in math and science, etc. We weren’t limited to the stereotypic roles that many other girls were relegated to in co-educational settings. If there were limitations on our success or achievement or participation at school, that was self-inflicted: we limited ourselves. Social challenges still happened but that was because we were not fully formed and people made poor decisions sometimes. Executive Functioning was still developing. And of course, teenage angst and insecurity were present, but that’s part of growing up too, dealing or not dealing with that and learning from those experiences.
What procedures were put into place due to the pandemic?
Whew...where to start? Socially distancing with your students? Yes, absolutely. Students not being able to physically connect and play together like in the past? Yes. We spent the first quarter learning from home, and students logged on to virtual sessions with their homeroom teacher. We had a handful of students come to campus physically, due to a wide range of reasons such as no connectivity at home, environment not most conducive for learning, and specialized services. In the summer I developed schedules for every single student with the plan to start the year in a hybrid-blended learning environment. We have health expectations, cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and even protocols on how to welcome students to campus in the morning to how we will manage recess. Then we shifted to everyone learning at home. Well, it was good to go through all of that thinking. While we didn’t implement the ABC plan, it helped me to think through all of the operations of a school as well as consider the individual needs of students, faculty, and staff. Mental gymnastics for sure. Now in planning to bring back more students to campus for in-person instruction, I solicited suggestions from faculty, staff, and parents. We will figure this out together. We need to still keep health and safety as the priority but we have additional guidance for DOH and metrics to utilize.
How are your teachers doing with distance learning?
I’m exceedingly proud of them. We are blessed. I know that they were frightened, worried, and anxious. Teaching is such an extension of self that it makes one nervous. Judgment by parents, students, and media takes a toll on teachers and it is wrong. They also don’t want to disappoint me. So that adds a layer of worry that I have to consistently battle to dispel. Also, knowing that they had to immediately implement new modes of instruction in front of a wider audience was nerve-wracking. But my teachers are committed, professional, caring folk (good people) that stepped up to the call to serve. We had to make decisions on learning platforms really quickly and had a short amount of time to learn. We had to have strong faith and hope that people would understand that we will do the best we can each day and that each day was a new opportunity. While we are willing to extend grace and understanding to our students, colleagues, and parents, it is not always reciprocated and that makes teaching very difficult. I make virtual visits to the classrooms and I hear them interacting with their students. I see students laughing, smiling, and enjoying the sessions. My teachers really took long leaps, so much so that we needed to have a talk about managing the day and how teaching in a virtual environment will not and should not replicate the seat time normally associated with a school day. I need them to take care of themselves and that means developing doable, sustainable, and reasonable expectations and agreements.
What are some of the accessibility issues (if any) for your students?
We’re fortunate to not have many issues. Families still struggle with bandwidth sharing but they are managing. And how are you attempting to combat those issues? We recommend students come to school to use our Wi-Fi when there are access or stability issues. They are supervised in our largest space and use our school devices to join their classmates and teacher online.
How do you stay hopeful during these times?
I’ve been asked this a lot. I really don’t have an answer because being hopeful is just part of who I am. I guess drawing upon my top five Gallup Strengths helps. Those are Learner, Connectedness, Intellection, Positivity, and Achiever. I use those strengths to make sense of things and to keep moving forward. But honestly, I can’t imagine how not being hopeful is helpful or even healthy.
What do you believe is the future of education?
I think the essence, overarching purpose of education will remain the same: preparing, teaching students to think in order to make sound decisions and problem solve, in order to make positive contributions to humankind. You know, make a positive difference in the lives of others. Part of this is to teach students how to listen to understand rather than listen to respond. But the mode of learning, instruction, assessment will continue to evolve and that’s exciting. To hear a veteran teacher tell me, “... that was scary to try but I’m never going back…” warms my heart. I don’t think education in this country is doomed. I don’t think we have failing schools in Hawaii. I do think some communities and some students/families need support well beyond what schools can usually provide and until basic needs are met, being part of a school community is hard. There are students who struggle and flourish in every school. Some of the responsibilities I have as a school leader is to determine how we can help students who struggle and how to keep expanding the wingspan of others while supporting faculty and staff.