Later, he earned his doctoral degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Education in Professional Educational Practice.
It’s likely that his circuitous educational route makes him even more of an inspiration to youths as someone who has had a greater depth of experience in life. Great leaders, great men and women, have life stories of peaks and valleys that have not deterred them from achieving their goals.
Fast forward, Atabay’s goal of working in an educational setting as a school counselor became reality; then doors opened for him to become vice principal and now principal.
After many years in education, as with many school administrators, you one day want to have more of an individual influence on a school and that usually comes in the form of an administrative position. In my experience and formal training, a school leader is a school leader – regardless of the title,” he said.
On growing up
Kyle grew up in Waipahu and started his Catholic education at St. Joseph’s School before going onto Damien. He remembers as one of his most memorable experiences was making the daily trek from Waipahu to Kalihi for four years.
This might sound ordinary, but when you’re a kid and your neighborhood friends and family are just going down the street for school and you’re taking the H-1 to go to school miles away, it can feel that you’re going somewhere, somewhere special – and could be a metaphor of his life, perhaps.
He says going to school away from his neighborhood expanded his world as a youth by providing him an opportunity to make connections with other students from around the island.
Kyle is the youngest in his family. He has one sister and two brothers, and is the only one to have attended private school and the first to graduate from college. His parents Henry and Aurora divorced when he was in the second grade and he ended up living with his dad.
His father is a stevedore. His mother worked in retail.
His father, Ilocano, was born in the Philippines and came to the U.S. via the military. Kyle says his father is his role model.
“My father taught me the importance of working hard. I believe that because he wanted a better life for me than the one he lived, he pushed me to always do well in school to better achieve success in my future.”
His mother traces her ancestry to the Visayas and was born in Hawaii.
He says on growing up Filipino: “assimilation into American culture was important then, especially for recent immigrant Filipinos who arrived in Hawaii in the sixties. Because Filipino is my only ethnicity, I’ve always identified myself as Filipino even though I don’t speak the language and have never visited the Philippines.
“The few traditions that I relate to probably have more of a local influence on them, yet I am proud of my Filipino heritage.”
One of the local traditions he is passionate about is hula, something he was involved in even when he was a student at Damien. As a senior in high school, he competed in the annual secondary school competition.
“With our success at the competition came an opportunity and offer to study hula under Kumu Hula Robert Uluwehi Cazimero and I have remained a student of his since then, 35 years next year.
“Although I have earned the right to now teach hula, with my teacher still around, I remain a student. Our belief is that hula is life and in every aspect of my life, the teachings of my hula experience can be applied.”
When asked about being one of a few principals of Filipino ancestry, he said: “there are already many Filipino school leaders in general, there is a shortage of minority school leaders across the country and if I have helped to increase that percentage, then I feel proud for having done so. It is important for minority kids to see minority leaders in every aspect of the work world so that we can inspire them to aspire to such roles.”
In a field like education where minorities are underrepresented, Atabay is an inspirational force. Principals are the leaders in schools; they are team builders of faculty and students.
There are many notable principals of Filipino ancestry retired and current. Kyle Atabay joins this select list.
It’s not just about making an impact on students’ lives. He believes everything that he’s done in life counts – the relationships he’s made, how he has treated people and make them feel, even the things he has chosen not to do have consequences.
This awareness of accountability and interconnectedness is already a positive going into his new life challenge.
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