Sunday, November 10, 2002


Keith Vieira leads the board of the new educational nonprofit group Hookakoo.

Hotel exec committed
to education

Keith Vieira

>> New post: Board chairman for Hookakoo Corp.

>> Day job: Senior vice president and operations director for Hawaii and French Polynesia for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc.

>> Hookakoo defined: The new nonprofit organization intends to collaborate with public schools to create charter schools and to provide quality preschool programs.

>> Other officers: Vice Chair Claire Asam, executive director of Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center; President Rose Yamada, retired state Department of Education administrator; Vice President Robert Witt, executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools; Secretary Jill Kouchi, coordinator of the Native Hawaiian Vocational Education Programs at Kauai Community College; and Treasurer Mitch D'Olier, president and chief executive officer of Kaneohe Ranch and the Harold K. L. Castle Foundation.

What are your goals as board chairman?

Our initial goals are to help the community, schools and parents understand what Hookakoo is and how it can help. There seems to be a high level of frustration on the part of parents about whether the (state Board of Education) is making a sufficient investment in their children's education; about whether enough money is being made available for our schools. There is also a desire for more direct involvement, both in policy and in the classroom. The BOE is a very large entity. It's hard for parents to feel they are being heard. Hookakoo will be there to help walk them through that process. The program will be able to access federal funds and Kamehameha Schools has committed a dollar for every four dollars the state spends on charter schools as long as at least one-third of the students are of Hawaiian ancestry. Other corporate sponsors have also expressed an interest in Hookakoo. The program will focus on the conversion of public schools to charter schools and on making available quality preschool education.

Will making sure one-third of the student population has Hawaiian blood be difficult?

No. We have demographic information for every school. And when you look at the schools that qualify for federal funding because they serve low-income populations, those schools have Hawaiian populations that are at least that large.

Why do you place such importance on charter schools?

It's a proven alternative method to learning and teaching. Kamehameha Schools looked at ways it could have more reach into the community. It could never build enough schools. Hookakoo was a way for them to reach more students of Hawaiian ancestry.

Do you think the state is adequately supporting these schools?

I'm new at this and maybe naive, but we've talked to the (state Department of Education) and we believe (Superintendent) Pat Hamamoto's support to be very sincere. I fully trust that we have their real support.

Why is preschool singled out in Hookakoo's mission?

We recognize, as everybody has, that early education in Hawaii is very important. Most parents work. This is a response to what the community has been saying for a number of years.

What do you think of the idea of regional school boards?

My feeling is always less bureaucracy is better than more bureaucracy. Most of the country does regional boards, they've found that to be the way to go, maybe it is. The system could be streamlined to allow better community access. This is just my opinion, not Hookakoo's.

What is your response to those who say regional school boards just mean more bureaucracy?

I understand that point, but regional things are always more responsive than centralized ones. That's the way we run businesses.

How does your concern for education relate to your day job?

We see this in the hotel business all the time: If you don't start in early with providing children with a well-rounded education, you never catch up. Also, we need to educate people about our industry. One of the most misunderstood areas of business in our state is the visitor industry. We need to help children find out more about what the industry has to offer and how it effects all layers of the economy.

Inside Hawaii Inc. is a conversation with a member of the
Hawaii business community who has changed jobs, been
elected to a board or been recognized for accomplishments.
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