Retired HSTA executive director Al Nagasako dies

Former public school principal, vice principal and teacher was a 'visionary leader'

Al Nagasako, who served as the Hawaii State Teachers Association’s executive director for four years after a successful 38-year career as a public school principal, vice principal and teacher, has died.

He was 69 when he died on June 30.

Nagasako led the HSTA from 2010 to 2014 following his retirement as principal at Kapolei High School where he spent nine years building statewide recognized programs of excellence.

“I have never known a more visionary leader,” said Wilbert Holck, who replaced Nagasako as HSTA executive director in 2014.  “Al was a change agent whose ideas were exciting, thought-provoking, and at the same time scary because they required you to think outside of the box. He challenged the status quo and made you think about why we exist as an organization and whether our thinking was out of touch with the membership.

“But there was one thing that mattered most to him—students, especially, our students that are often seen as the ‘problem students.’ He called them ‘knuckleheads,’” Holck recalled. “These were the students he believed often fell through the cracks of the public school system and he made it a point to be their voice in every meeting with the DOE, BOE, legislators, and business leaders.

"Al will be missed, but his memory and his passion for children will always remain alive in my heart,” Holck said.

Shortly before he died, a group of teachers who worked with Nagasako during his first year as principal at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School gathered to remember their mentor and friend. (See photo below)

One of them, Joan Lewis, who is now an instructional coach at Kapolei High School, said, "We all agreed that we were lucky to have had him as our principal so early in our careers. We were empowered long before anyone talked about it, and no matter what we came up with, his answer was always, 'If you think it is good for kids, go for it!'"

When Nagasako retired from HSTA in 2014, he sent a farewell message to members that said, in part, “Teachers create a foundation for future professionals and inspire the next generation of leaders that will continue to shape and enrich our society. That is why teachers deserve the best care and support.”

Prior to his time as Kapolei principal, Nagasako held many positions within public education in Hawaii, such as president of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, Oahu Interscholastic Association, and Leeward Partnership for School-to-Work; deputy superintendent of the Leeward District; principal and vice principal of Nanakuli High and Intermediate Schools, and Waipahu High School, respectively; and as a teacher for vocational and special education programs.

Nagasako was also involved in many local professional organizations. He served as president of the Malama Learning Center and Hawaii Government Employees Association-Unit 6, and was a facilitator of the National School Leaders Network.

A graduate of Iolani School, Nakasako attended Linfield College in Oregon and graduated from the University of Hawaii.

His family held private services in July.

These teachers worked with Nagasako the first year he was principal at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School. They got together recently to toast in his honor, and sent him this photo to boost his spirits in his final days. First row L-R:  Susan Chinen, Sally Takemori, Diana Agor, Irene Ohashi. Second row L-R:  Laura Harada, Gayle Nagasaki, Sandy Barnett, Robin Kitsu, Tammy Nakamura, Joan Lewis, Gary Won, Todd Tashiro, Tino Palacio.

Farewell message from Al Nagasako in 2014:

"Someone once said that the only constant in life is change. After having been with the HSTA as executive director for nearly five years, and serving as principal, vice principal and teacher in Hawaii’s public school system for 38 years before then, as well as president of HGEA Unit 06, I am now ready for a change. I am reminiscent about my time with the HSTA and as an educator, and am proud of the accomplishments we have all achieved together.

Ratifying a working contract in 2013 was a major milestone, which helped to establish pay increases for teachers and restore health insurance premium percentages. Your collective efforts in sending emails and letters, making phone calls to our legislators and sign-waving enthusiastically at our rallies showed an unwavering commitment to education and helped to pressure the State and accomplish this goal. This was simply the first step in stabilizing our teacher workforce and establishing better working conditions, which would not have been possible without all of you.

Great accomplishments, however, do not always come easy. We continue to work through the next steps, including the Educator Evaluation System (EES), which we understand has taken a toll on teachers and their classroom, leaving little time for creativity or meaningful lessons that help to shape the whole student.

We need to bring back the joy of teaching and focus on supporting teachers in their efforts to instill a joy of learning, instead of weighing too much on fulfilling student test requirements. It is our responsibility to expose children to the world, stretch their imaginations to possibilities, motivate them and provide them with the skills and confidence they need to pursue their passion and goals in life. The overall well-being of our students is our priority and the reason we went into education.

Just as teachers encourage students to strive for the best, we ourselves are always in pursuit of enhancing our own knowledge and practice. In order to provide high quality learning opportunities for our students, we must therefore be at the top of our game. And it is the HSTA’s responsibility to provide teachers with access to resources and support to continue to be the best teachers. Over the past three years, the HSTA has expanded its professional development program to help teachers further their practice and empower them with opportunities for growth. As we continue to look for ways to help you thrive, we also welcome input on how we can enhance our professional development programs and better assist you in becoming better teachers.

As we focus on improving, the EES remains a priority for the HSTA. Demands from the EES have been unrealistic and almost restrictive to the practice of teaching, which is why it is crucial that we continue to work toward improving the system. Your time, dedication and candid feedback is invaluable. The data and comments gathered by teacher representatives have enabled the HSTA to pressure the DOE into reviewing the system and committing to changes that will reduce the burden on teachers and administrators. This is one step closer to creating a fair and effective EES. It remains a work in progress, and we encourage all of you to continue to provide input so that we can advocate on your behalf. This will be especially crucial as we pursue a contract reopener this spring.

We also recently commissioned a study with the DOE to survey teacher salary and compensation comparisons, which was conducted by a third party research firm. The pending results, which we will share once available, will also provide additional data as we negotiate during the reopener.

Teaching has one of the most profound and direct impacts on the future of our communities. Teachers create a foundation for future professionals and inspire the next generation of leaders that will continue to shape and enrich our society. That is why teachers deserve the best care and support.

I have no doubt that our new Executive Director Wilbert Holck is the best person for the job. He has extensive knowledge and experience as an educator and working with unions, both for the HSTA and HGEA, which strengthens his ability to advocate on behalf of teachers. We are pleased to have welcomed Wilbert back to the HSTA and encourage you to reach out and work with him as well.

Thank you for being a positive influence on me and thousands of individuals throughout the state. In my retirement, I will continue to be an advocate for teachers and quality public education in Hawaii. I am proud to have had the opportunity to serve with you as a teacher and behalf of you as the HSTA’s executive director, and I applaud you for hard work and commitment to serving the children of Hawaii."

[EasyDNNnewsLocalizedText:Author]: Keoki Kerr
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