The Empathetic Educator

Wendy Matsuzaki leads by recognizing individuals’ strengths.

Topics: Principal Leadership

Wendy Matsuzaki, Principal of Gov. Samuel Wilder King Intermediate School, Kaneohe, Hawaii

Wendy Matsuzaki, Principal of Gov. Samuel Wilder King Intermediate School, Kaneohe, Hawaii.

Wendy Matsuzaki has performed a variety of roles in education, serving as an elementary teacher, student services coordinator, district summer school director, vice principal, and principal over the course of her career with the Windward Oahu School District in Hawaii.

As principal of Heeia Elementary, Matsuzaki helped boost high school assessment scores 17.1 percent in math and 8.6 percent in reading during the 2010–2011 school year, earning Blue Ribbon School status from the Department of Education.

Upon announcing Matsuzaki
would lead King Intermediate starting in 2014, the district said she was “passionate and committed to students and staff.” Since then, she has dedicated herself to academic leadership, easing middle-grade transitions, and student and staff well-being.

More recently, Matsuzaki has been influential at the district level, helping allocate ESSER funding to address learning loss and mental health. “All students deserve an excellent school where they can learn, grow, and achieve,” she says.

What do your school and district plan to do with their ESSER funding?

Our state is focusing ESSER funds on addressing learning loss, refining social-emotional learning, and improving staff well-being. Students at King benefited by using ESSER funds to pay for summer transition programs and virtual mental health support.

Your mother leads NAESP’s Hawaii affiliate. How has this helped advance your practice?

Mom is my role model and the inspiration for everything I have done. I saw how passionate she was and admired her positive impact on thousands of children and families in Kaneohe. For years, I helped behind the scenes and realized the importance of advocating to elevate our profession.

What is your favorite part of the school day as principal of King Intermediate?

Recess, of course! I love hanging out with the students and talking about how their day is going. They know this is a time to approach me about anything that’s on their mind. Sometimes they even share snacks with me. It’s the best way to develop a deeper connection with students.

What is the best “leadership moment” you’ve had since becoming a principal?

Hands down, my best leadership moment was seeing my son’s face when I walked into his classroom during walkthroughs as the new principal at King Intermediate, where he was a seventh grader. By the start of eighth grade, he said it would be OK to say hi to him in school.

What is the best book you’ve read in the last year for personal PD?

StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. It taught me to see the strengths of people rather than focusing on deficits. I learned that everyone has unique talents to offer, and rather than trying to be better at something we’re not good at, we should focus on being great at what we’re good at.

What hidden talents do you have that aid in your leadership role?

I learned through StrengthsFinder that my hidden talent is empathy. I have the innate ability to walk in another person’s shoes and see things from their perspective.