Jeri Dean wants to create opportunities for students as Lahainaluna High School principal
LAHAINA — From the mountains to the ocean, Lahainaluna High School connects the West Side community like no other marker.
Its vision speaks about our pride and drive and deep respect for all who have walked along its historic campus corridors since 1831.
“Gather,” it reads, “At This Place of Lahainaluna
Grasp the Flaming Torch of Excellence
And Let Us Move Forward Together.”
Last week, Jan. 11, a new leader was appointed to serve as the principal of our educational center situated 500 feet above Lahaina.
Department of Education, Canoe Complex Area Superintendent (Hana, Lahainaluna, Lanai and Molokai) Lindsay Ball announced, “Jeri Dean has shown a commitment to all aspects of Lahainaluna since the day she became the temporarily assigned principal (February 2020).
“She brings positive energy to the position, and she has the ability to have bold and courageous conversations when necessary. Jeri is passionate about the school and its history.”
Her experience was learned and her degrees earned.
Dean began her West Maui educational journey at King Kamehameha III Elementary School.
“Being in education was a lifelong dream,” Dean said, attributing two teachers at the Front Street public school for planting the seeds of her aspirations.
“That’s why I became a teacher,” she explained, “because I wanted to be just like them. I wanted to love and teach and help children the way they did for me.”
Her career path led her up the hill to Lahainaluna High School, where she graduated in 1988. She attended Brigham Young University-Hawaii, graduating from the private school in Laia in 1995 with degrees in both psychology and elementary education.
Then it was back to her island home again; her services were engaged as an elementary school teacher at Princess Nahi’ena’ena Elementary for 22 years.
“I was basically in every position that’s available at the school. I was also in several resource positions — coordinator positions,” she advised.
Four years ago, she enrolled in the State of Hawaii Administration Certification Program.
“I earned my Masters in Administration, and then they placed me at Lahainaluna. I became a vice principal at Lahainaluna for three years; and then this year, I am the principal,” Dean said.
“Becoming an administrator, I think I eventually realized that I can positively impact more students in a different capacity, and that capacity would be to support teachers.”
Being equally connected to the students is vital to the growth of her evolving philosophy.
“That’s the root of my passion,” Dean added, “the students. They are like my people. I am from Lahaina. I know they are local kids. I know what local kids are like. I know most of their families and their parents, and so I love that connection.”
Tools to move forward, according to Dean, include promoting diversity and culture.
“My goal in this position is going to be to honor the journey of our students, and that journey really looks different for every single student,” she observed.
“Some students want to go to college; some students want to go right into a career; some want to experience the arts or other areas that speak to their passion.
“My goal,” Dean explained, “is to create opportunities for all the different children that we have coming through Lahainaluna. It’s not one path. There isn’t one path or one order on how that needs to happen. My goal is to broaden the mind set to expose the possibilities to our school community. I want to create a fluid environment that offers endless opportunities for the unique kids that they are.”
It won’t be easy.
“That’s going to require a culture shift,” she projected. “It’s going to require looking at things differently. It’s going to require being okay with different opinions and different ideas and respecting each other and building a culture that honors that diversity.”
Her parents, Paul and Grace Dean, were exemplary role models. Her dad passed four years ago, and her mother still lives in Lahaina.
“I come from extremely humble beginnings,” Dean recalled. “My parents were very involved in the community. They loved their lives in gratitude and in service and selflessness.”
An obituary in the Lahaina News at the time of his passing read: “Paul Dean’s richness in life came as a result of the aloha he generated as a stalwart of the Mormon church and the emphasis put into Christian family values there. He spread his love of God to his wife and family, and further enriched the community as the scoutmaster of Boy Scouts of America Troop 79 of Lahaina.
“He toiled as a heavy equipment operator for 41 years to provide for his family and helped represent his co-workers as a member of the Operating Engineers Local Union 3.
“My mom raised the six of us. She was a housewife; she took care of us.”
Her father’s legacy and work ethics were handed down to Dean.
“He taught us no matter what, you work hard, and you work honest. You have a sense of integrity in all that you do. I saw that so many people in the community loved him.”
Dean has a unique perspective.
“We’re positioned at the top of the hill where people can’t help but look up to Lahainaluna. My hope is that we will continue to be a flaming torch of excellence — a beacon that speaks to our commitment to our youth, to our community and to our families.”