DOE Maui Canoe Complex Has a New Alakaʻi

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Photo: Rebecca Winkie
Newly named “Canoe Complex” superintendent Dr. Rebecca Winkie has more than 30 years of experience as a teacher and administrator. – Photo: Courtesy

On July 1, Dr. Rebecca Winkie became the Department of Education’s new Maui Canoe Complex area superintendent. The canoe complex includes Hāna and Lahaina on Maui, as well as the islands of Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi. There are 11 DOE schools in the complex, and although the canoe complex schools are on three separate islands, rather than viewing the water as something that separates the complex, Winkie sees it as a means to connect these communities into a unified system.

An experienced teacher and administrator, Winkie started her career in Georgia. After 14 years, she found her way to Hawaiʻi. For the past 18 years, she has served in a variety of roles at a number of Maui County schools. She taught at Kalama Intermediate and at Lānaʻi High and Elementary and later served as vice principal at King Kamehameha lll Elementary. Most recently, she was principal at Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary, which is the only elementary school in West Maui to offer a Hawaiian Language Immersion program to all its students.

Winkie embraces the concept of “sense of place” and puts that into action by participating in Kamehameha Schools’ cultural foundation sessions and continuing to learn about Hawaiian culture through quarterly meetings hosted at each of the canoe complex sites. She encourages other administrators to also learn about Hawaiian culture to help them understand and support their students. Although online meetings help to reduce the extensive travel in the complex, Winkie wants to be a visible leader and looks forward to in-person meetings.

“Schools are hubs within the community, so the community-school connection is important,” said Winkie. As a principal, she built partnerships with organizations like the Rotary Club who assisted students and their families with gift certificates and food at the outset of the pandemic. She is also partnering with UH so DOE teachers can enroll in Hawaiian language classes at no cost.

Her vision is to have teachers and administrators build relationships with each child holistically by embracing the child’s individual social, emotional, and academic needs. “Education creates opportunities for students – and individuals need differentiated instruction using innovative approaches, such as project-based learning,” explained Winkie.

A priority for Winkie in her new position is establishing a Hawaiian Language Immersion (HLI) program on Lānaʻi where she lived and taught for 11 years. Two years ago, the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court ruled that the DOE must make “reasonable efforts” to provide students access to HLI education. The landmark decision recognized ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi as an official language of the state and thus requires the DOE to provide comprehensive Hawaiian education programs.

As a result, Lānaʻi’s inaugural HLI program is beginning in this new school year for grades K-1. Two additional grades will be added each year for the next two years until HLI is offered in grades K-5. Additionally, Hawaiian language enrichment classes will be provided in all elementary classrooms. In middle school, grade 7 students will have a Hawaiian language and culture exploratory class, and high school students will have the opportunity to enroll in Hawaiian 1 and 2 to meet the language requirements for graduation.

Another challenge for Winkie is that the canoe complex schools have challenges not faced by other Maui island schools, such as their remote locations and travel issues, and unique and diverse populations. “The phrase, one size fits all, doesn’t apply to schools in this complex,” said Winkie. She will be looking for synergistic opportunities among the schools to best meet their special and diverse needs.

With keiki heading back to school this month despite the ongoing pandemic, Winkie said that the plan is still to provide in-person, full-day instruction. “However, the protocols of masks, hand washing, and daily wellness checks will continue to be applied,” Winkie emphasized.

If variant viruses require school closures, the complex schools have a plan in place for transitioning to alternative teaching modes.

Winkie has tough decisions ahead but said she is committed to doing what is best for the haumāna in the canoe complex to ensure they receive the best possible education and that they are learning in a safe environment.