Back to school 2017: Meet Hawaii’s new Catholic school administrators

 In News

Originally published in the Hawaii Catholic Herald, with several revisions made.

Betsey Gunderson

Hawaii Catholic Schools, Interim Associate Superintendent

  • Personal: She was raised on Oahu. Her father Richard Hughes grew up on Maui and her mother, Sallie Wingfield Hughes, was from Virginia. She is the eldest of nine children, a 13-year graduate of Maryknoll School, with five children and eight grandchildren of her own.
  • Education: Undergraduate degree from the University of Hawaii-Manoa with a major in Hawaiian studies; a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of South Dakota; while in South Dakota she worked as a graduate assistant on a national research grant studying staff development processes funded through the federal Department of Education.
  • Previous jobs: She has worked 38 years at three Hawaii Catholic schools — Maryknoll, Sacred Hearts Academy and St. Anthony, Maui — as a teacher, department chair, vice-principal, principal and head of school.
  • Comment: “I have been blessed to witness first-hand the profound impact a Catholic education can provide the many students I have had the privilege to work with. When I was in ninth grade, a Maryknoll Sister enabled me to receive the gift of a Catholic education. In that same spirit of ‘noblesse oblige,’ I hope I will be able to continue to support those who work in this ministry today. Serving in the Hawaii Catholic Schools for the last 38 years, I can now happily say ‘I know stuff,’ albeit primarily in hindsight! I hope that perspective can be useful to those who are with students on a daily basis as they continue to strive to balance high quality, Christ-centered programs with affordability.”

Rana Boone

Principal, St. Anthony School, Maui

  • Personal:  She was raised in Haiku, Maui and is a 1994 graduate of St. Anthony School, Maui.  Four of her nine siblings also graduated from St. Anthony School. She is married and has two daughters.
  • Education: Boone studied Japanese, Hawaiian, Italian, French, and Spanish. At Howard University, she studied political science, earning a Bachelor of Arts. She received her teacher certification and pursued her Masters of Education Administration at the University of St. Thomas-Houston.
  • Previous jobs: Boone has more than 17 years of experience as a teacher, instructional coach, school administrator and education consultant. She has worked in the education sector in California, Hawai’i, Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, New York City, and Washington, D.C. She has served with such organizations as Teach for America; KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program; Houston Independent School District; and Leading Educators. She piloted a financial literacy program in Houston helping high school students make college a reality, and she worked to retain quality teachers across the country by empowering them with new instructional and leadership skills. Most recently, Boone taught 5th-grade students at Pu’u Kukui Elementary School.
  • Comment: ““The teachers and staff here nurtured and supported me in my most formative years. When I began taking classes in college, I realized just how well SAS had prepared me to succeed in school and in life. Not only had my spiritual needs been met by the educational setting, but I was also ahead of my peers thanks to the progressive curriculum that St. Anthony had offered. That is exactly the same experience I want for our current and future students in the St. Anthony ‘Ohana.”


Chris Loomis

Principal, Maryknoll School (grade school), Honolulu

  • Personal: She was born and raised in Honolulu and is a 1985 Maryknoll School Alumna. She is married and has two sons, Noah (age 7) and Jonah (age 6), who both attend Maryknoll School.
  • Education: BEd. in Elementary Education from Seattle University (1989); MA in Administration, Curriculum and Instruction, Gonzaga University (1997); MEd. in Catholic School Leadership, Chaminade University (2008).
  • Previous jobs: Maryknoll Grade School Teacher, Grades 5 & 6, 1989-2013 and Maryknoll Grade School Vice Principal of Academics and Faculty, 2013-2017.
  • Comment: “I am excited to be the new K-8 Principal at Maryknoll School!  The 2017-18 school year will be an exciting one with our new Mandarin Immersion Program in Kindergarten and Project Lead the Way Programs in Grades 3-8.  I have been blessed to be working at my alma mater for 28 years.  God is good!”

Bernie Gora

Principal, St. Theresa School, Honolulu

  • Personal: Born and raised in Aiea and Kalihi, she is married to a “wonderful” husband with whom she has five successful children and nine beautiful grandchildren.
  • Education: Bachelor of arts in humanities; master of science in secondary education with a focus in literacy; master of education in educational leadership
  • Previous jobs: 16 years as a general music teacher and choir director at Holy Family Catholic Academy and St. Theresa School; middle school social studies teacher at St. Theresa School; vice principal at St. Theresa School.
  • Comment: “I could feel the excitement in the air on July 24 when 17 teachers came to renew their cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid training. After a full morning, 19 faculty members listened, watched and learned a new 21st century method of teaching and learning called P4C (Philosophy for Children). David Kaniaupio, son-in-law and a social studies teacher at Nanakuli High School was so gracious in sharing his manao on P4C through an informative slideshow and teacher interaction. Both current and new teachers quickly connected as if they knew each other for a long time. I was elated to see the fun in learning among our faculty. It appeared that everyone lit up and appeared to have a sense of comfort knowing that P4C will go hand-in-hand with project base learning and the other great things our teachers have in store for our students. The mission of St. Theresa School is to provide a quality Catholic education rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the education of the whole child: spirit, mind, and body. My hope for this school year is to see students, teachers, parents, parishioners and volunteers all working together for the same mission. Importantly, that all shareholders be a part of this great excitement!

Allen Akiona

  • Director, Holy Family Catholic Academy Early Learning Center, Honolulu
  • Personal: Born and raised on Maui (“upcountry boy”). Lives in Pearl City and enjoys walking his dog Rossco and spending time with his nephew Tanner. He’s looking forward to his soon-to-be-born niece Kalyssa.
  • Education: Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood education from the University of Hawaii-Manoa and a minor in elementary education from Chaminade University of Honolulu.
  • Previous job: First grade teacher at Holy Family Catholic Academy
  • Comment: “I am blessed and excited to be the new director of the Early Learning Center at Holy Family. The year will be a new learning experience for me as I learn and share my talents outside of the classroom. I want to lead my team in the right direction and make sure that our students receive the best early childhood education.”

Kainoa Fukumoto

Principal, St. Michael School

  • Personal: From Wahiawa, he and his wife Yvonne have three daughters, Maileailana, Olena Rose and Lehua Anne.
  • Education: Bachelor of arts degree in music performance
  • Previous jobs: Music and middle school religion teacher, St. Michael School; chief finance officer, Kukilakila Inc.; founder and executive director, EPIC Ministry; music consultant, Diocese of Honolulu; liturgy and music director, Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, Waihiawa.
  • Comment: “Catholic schools must be, first and foremost, true ministries of the church. My overall goal for this coming school year is to ensure that we uphold a standard of excellence not just in academics, but also in our identity as a Catholic ministry. At a time when many Catholic schools are facing an enrollment and financial crisis, our focus must not be primarily on the business aspect of educating students, but rather, on re-establishing ourselves as institutions established firmly in our Catholic faith. If our primary purpose is not to encourage holiness and to direct young minds, hearts, and souls to heaven, then we will have failed our mission as Catholic schools.”

Timothy P. Cullen

Head of School, St. Anthony School, Wailuku

  • Personal: Born and raised in Ohio and recently moved to Maui. Married to Paula for almost 28 years, they have three daughters, Sophia, Gabriella and Gianna, and one granddaughter, Francesca.
  • Education: Bachelor of science in education in elementary education and special education from Bowling Green State University, Ohio; master of education in school administration from Azusa Pacific University, California.
  • Previous jobs: 32 years in public and private schools as a teacher and school administrator. Served the past six years as superintendent of the Bishop Hoffman Catholic School System (K-12) in Ohio.
  • Comment: “Following God’s call to serve the students, staff, parents and community of St. Anthony School on Maui is an absolute blessing. We are SAS and we now start a new day for a new generation.”

Maria Soledad Valdez

Director, L. Robert Allen Montessori Laboratory School, Honolulu

  • Personal: Raised in Honolulu, she has one daughter, 14-year-old Cailynne, who has Rett Syndrome.
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education in 2002; American Montessori Society certificate in 2005; master’s degree in education with the emphasis of child development in 2015.
  • Previous jobs: A Montessori teacher for almost 15 years, starting at Star of the Sea Early Learning Center and for the past 10 years at L. Robert Allen Montessori Laboratory School.

Chantelle Luarca

Principal, Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Pearl City

  • Personal: She is from Pearl City. Married just over a year, she and her husband are expecting their first child in January.
  • Education: Attended Catholic schools from preschool to graduate school —Our Lady of Good Counsel School, Saint Francis School, Chaminade University earning a bachelor’s in science in elementary education, and Scranton University, receiving a master’s of arts degree in curriculum and instruction.
  • Comment: “My values are rooted by Catholic faith and I keep a strong ‘Jesus first’ philosophy. With him as our focus, decisions are simpler to make and challenges are easier to take. As a Catholic school teacher of 10 years, I recognize students are blessed with God-given talents. This uniqueness is what should drive a school’s motivation and excitement to be innovative in educating the whole child — spiritually, emotionally and academically. When all members of a school community realize this, individual student growth and success is achieved. This teaching philosophy is now being applied as an administrator — all members are blessed with God-given talents and with recognition and appreciation, our entire school’s growth and success is achieved.

Britt Cocumelli

  • Principal, St. Catherine School, Kauai
  • Personal: Originally from Pasadena, California, she moved to Kauai five years ago with her husband and two children. Her 11-year-old son Nico and 8-year-old daughter Sophia both attend St. Catherine School and love it very much!
  • Previous jobs: She has worked with children in some capacity for over 20 years, six as a second grade teacher, six operating a daycare, and the past five as a kindergarten teacher.
  • Comment: “I am very excited to be taking on the role as principal and being challenged in all new ways. I feel that God has a plan for me and I am walking in faith to do his work. As an entire school we are thrilled to be moving forward and striving to attain excellence in all that we do.”


 Other new administrators:

  • Farrah Derla, Director at St. Marianne Cope Preschool
  • Sister Cecilia Fabular, OP, Principal at Rosary Preschool
  • John Madriaga, Principal (high school) at Maryknoll School
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