SEPT. 1, 2018



Dr. Kyle Atabay Inspiring Youths as Principal at Damien


By Edwin Quinabo

Sometimes life brings you back to exactly where you started. But you return to the same point wiser, more mature, and eager to share what life has taught you. This holds true for Dr. Kyle Atabay on his educational journey; he returns to his alma mater to become principal at Damien Memorial School.

Landing the top administrator position at Damien came about as both a mix of fate and coincidence. He tells the Chronicle, “at the end of last school year, while at my previous school (Kamehameha Schools’ Kapalama Middle School where he served as vice principal), I would have never imagined that I would be at another school in the fall, let alone as the principal.

“I have been lightly calling it divine intervention as it seems the opportunity fell onto my lap. I applied, interviewed, and the following week was offered the position. I was always involved in school leadership at every school that I previously worked. As a vice principal for the past six years, taking on the role of principal is a natural step and I am extremely honored that it is at my alma mater.”

Now he sits at the helm of Damien ready to inspire students at a place where dreams begin.

Atabay believes he could not have readily taken on the role of principal at another school.

“This will be the moment of truth (at his new position), so to speak, for me to utilize everything that I have come to believe in both my professional experience as well as my formal education.”

Damien Memorial School is a co-educational institution that serves about 650 students from around the island in grades 6 – 12. With a Catholic tradition, the school honors its namesake, St. Damien of Molokai, as well as Brother Edmund Rice, the founder of the association of brothers who started the school.

Damien used to be an all-boy’s school for nearly 50 years, but became coeducational beginning from the 2012-13 school year.

“We provide a college-preparatory academic program and provide a focus on leadership, service and advocacy,” he says.

Atabay says his responsibilities as principal include personnel and academic program management and spiritual leadership for the school community.

He is also tasked with implementing Damien’s strategic plans that include the promotion of social emotional learning and the employment of 21st century educational best practices so that students can be ready for the challenges in their future.

Damien President and CEO Wes Reber Porter said in a statement, “Dr. Kyle Atabay adds a wealth of knowledge and experience to our leadership team. He is a career educator with a counseling and social emotional learning background. And as a proud Damien alumnus from the Class of ’84, Kyle appreciates our mission, community and traditions as a Catholic school.”

Atabay said seeing kids grow, learn, and succeed serve as great inspiration for him and something that he thinks about every day.

“My choice to work in education began with my desire to help kids. First as a counselor, then as an administrator, I’ve always believed that education can be a valuable pathway to future success. The completion of my doctoral program in education for me was a commitment to improve education in our state, regardless of my title and what school I work in,” said Atabay.

He hopes what students get from Damien Memorial is the ability to go out into their community and utilize all the tools that they’ve learned to make them successful in the real world.

Also, “I want them to grow in their faith in God and to be able to rely on that relationship that they’ve created with Him. And finally, I want them to always remember that everyone can use a helping hand and to always be prepared to serve their community and others.”

He says, there are many paths to success in life, however, education is available and accessible to everyone. He chose education to help others navigate their educational journey to success.

In addition to 17 years at Kamehameha Schools, Atabay also was a case manager at the Institute of Human Services where he helped the homeless. He worked as a counselor at Kapolei Middle School and admissions counselor at Chaminade University of Honolulu.

Nothing is really a perfect circle

As a child Atabay never had thoughts of becoming a principal. “Never in a million years!” he says. He remembers being extremely shy as a youth and had difficulty making friends. He was able to eventually shed that shyness in part because of his career choices in education and from his many years as an entertainer-hula dancer which forced him to step out of his shell.

“For me, education was made a value from a young age and I was able to find success in my journey which wasn’t exactly a straight line. There were ups and downs as well as setbacks, but I always knew that education would get me to where I wanted to go,” said Atabay.

Some of the ups and downs he described included a hiatus from school to discover what he wanted to do with his life. In his young adulthood, he weaved in and out of colleges and in between full- and part-time employment. He went from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, to local community colleges, and briefly left school entirely.

“I took a three-and-a-half-year break from college and worked in the tourist industry. Eventually, I found myself working a full-time day job and a part-time night job for which I made just about the same amount of money as my full-time job. Therefore, I dropped the full-time job and went back to college on a full-time basis,” said Atabay.

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