Michael J. Chun, who helped lead Kamehameha Schools through troubled times and made big improvements as president and Kapalama campus headmaster during the last 23 years, has announced he will step down in 15 months.
Chun, 67, is a beloved fixture in the Kamehameha community, and news of his departure hit many hard yesterday.
"I cried when I heard," said Gerry Johansen, Kamehameha Schools alumni relations administrator. "Michael has been a pillar of strength and one that embodies the true spirit of aloha."
Julian Ako, principal of the high school at the Kapalama campus, said Chun represents "Mr. Kamehameha in every aspect of the word.
"Mike Chun has supported our students in every endeavor," said Ako, who was Chun’s classmate. "He’s a wonderful role model."
In looking for Chun’s replacement, Kamehameha Schools Chief Executive Officer DeeJay Mailer said, "We have cast a very, very large global net."
She added, "We have 15 months to find a great leader that’s going to pick up from where Dr. Chun laid a very strong foundation."
The announcement comes as the Kapalama campus is in the midst of a three-year, $118 million makeover, which includes construction of a native Hawaiian cultural center, redevelopment of the athletic complex and big changes at the middle school campus and dormitories.
About 3,200 students in kindergarten through 12th grade attend the 600-acre Kapalama campus, the oldest and largest of Kamehameha’s three campuses.
Chun, a 1961 graduate of Kamehameha, said he is proud he got to see the redevelopment work begin and to have been at the helm during some immense changes for the school.
Chief among them, he said, was a shift for the school into a college preparatory campus — and one that taught students to embrace their Hawaiian culture.
Chun said Kamehameha students know they will be successful "not despite their Hawaiian ancestry, but because they’re Hawaiian."
Under Chun’s leadership, Mailer added, Kamehameha "became a Hawaiian school rather than a school for Hawaiians."
Chun was named president of Kamehameha Schools in 1988, and in 2000 was given the choice of remaining at the Kapalama campus as headmaster or becoming the new chief education officer overseeing all the schools and education programs.
He chose the former, saying that he wanted to stay where his heart was, with the students and staff at the Kapalama campus.
Although serving as headmaster, Chun kept the title of president of Kamehameha Schools.
That title will retire with him.
Chun weathered some difficult years at Kamehameha, including a turbulent period in the 1990s when former trustee Lokelani Lindsey tried to strip him of his power.
That led to an uprising on campus and the eventual removal of all five of the organization’s trustees.
Also during his tenure, Kamehameha Schools saw several legal challenges because of its admissions policy, which favors students of Hawaiian ancestry.
But Chun said his toughest days were following several "sensitive public incidents" involving students.
Those included a 2009 case in which a middle school student alleged she was sexually assaulted by two classmates at a dormitory.
"The (trustees) controversy … in the late ’90s had to deal with adults and had nothing to do with the kids," he said. "When we had to deal with over the years, two or three very sensitive public incidents that had involved our students, those are the times that I think that I felt the burden was very, very heavy."
After retiring, Chun said he plans to remain active in the community and is looking at other possible opportunities in education.
Mailer said the school will be seeking some key qualifications in Chun’s successor: Candidates should have a proven record in education, know what "21st-century education looks like" and have a foundation in working with native people.