‘We have to get it right’ – Silverton High School’s new principal

August 2021 Posted in Uncategorized

By Brenna Wiegand

Silverton High School principal
Sione Thompson

Though Hawaii born and raised, the pandemic spurred Sione Thompson to move to the mainland and become Silverton High School’s new principal.

“I have a lot of family on the West Coast,” Thompson said. “I also have four children: two in grade school, one in high school and another in college. Dawn and I agreed that we want to make sure kids of the next generation know their family.”

Thompson’s siblings live here, and his father is the eldest of 15 who all settled in the area.

“When COVID hit what’s important really came through,” he said

Thompson’s previous experience served him well in his job search.

Since graduating from the University of Hawaii 20 years ago, Thompson spent time teaching and coaching at St. Louis High School prior to becoming the school principal.

That led to a stint as the University of Hawaii’s director of programs for early college students, helping secondary students find grants and helping districts struggling with on-time graduations.

From there he became executive director of the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission, overseeing 37 schools across five islands. At the time he came to Silverton, Thompson was serving as the Complex Area Superintendent for the Waianae-Nanakuli area. 

Though he enjoyed the broader administrative realm outside the school building, he also felt he was getting further and further away from the kids themselves.

“I fell in love with the classroom and interacting with kids in the first place,” he said.

Even with COVID and during the ice storm, Thompson found a way to physically visit Silverton, where he met community members, teachers and students who were part of the hiring process.

“I really felt that this is not just a place of community but something special where people care not just about education but about people; about each other,” he said. “It reminded me of a lot of the values I was raised with in Hawaii: family is important; know who you are and look for ways to take care of others and leave the next generation better off than what you received.

“I felt absolutely that this was a place I could be proud of and where I could raise my family,” he said. “It’s hard to leave and feel confident that you’re giving your best to your children and not settling. We do not feel like we settled; we feel like we upgraded.”

Among his top concerns as he rolls up his sleeves for the 2021-22 school year are graduation rates and the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers.

“We’ve seen a lot of success in teacher retention in some of the schools I’ve worked with,” Thompson said. “Having teachers that are committed and the stability they provide within the school is a priority for me.

“When you have passion, colleagues, control over your craft and are constantly improving… these things matter to teachers, especially today, when teaching is an under-appreciated profession,” he said. “I want this to be a place where they feel valued.”

Though he respects the different viewpoints of district families, Silverton High School is committed to in-person learning for the coming school year.

“We understand there are people on both sides of the aisle; our commitment is to in-person learning without regulations with safety measures in place, unless the law requires otherwise,” Thompson said. “We want to be very targeted toward bringing the community back; we feel that’s what’s best for the children.

“The pile of needs is never going to run dry,” he said. “We know that after the past 18 months there are going to be gaps. That’s OK, we can work with that; we can learn together and possibly redefine what readiness looks like; what college life and preparedness looks like.

“We need to find ways to appropriately and properly inventory and understand where kids are with their learning and then develop quality plans to get them where they need to be in order to be successful community members,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fun work; it also keeps me up at night. We have to get it right; children deserve what is best.

“The other thing that keeps me tossing and turning is the possible gap in the social-emotional needs of students – and adults,” he said. “We need to see that our staff has what they need to be the best they can be in front of their students.

“It’s going to be a process and we’re all learners in this together.”

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