When Shana Tong, MEd ‘08 was offered the position of interim president at Maryknoll School, a private Catholic school in Honolulu, the situation couldn’t have been more urgent. It was July of 2020, and the education system around the world had just been rocked by one of the biggest challenges of the century: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools across the globe had spent the last part of the 2019-20 school year scrambling to finish out the year remotely. No one really knew what fall of 2020 would bring—would schools be able to reopen? Teachers and administrators were working double-time to prepare for all possible scenarios.
In Hawaii, things were looking stable in early July. But now, a little over one month later, everything has changed. Numbers are rising, and quickly. The situation is becoming much more dire, and public schools have now been mandated to begin their school year online.
If there is anyone that can lead Maryknoll through these difficult times, it’s Tong. Tong knows Maryknoll like the back of her hand. She has had every possible relationship with the school—she has been a Maryknoll student, parent, teacher and administrator. And her endless optimism and easy manner will serve the school well during these unpredictable times.
It isn’t easy assuming a new leadership role in the middle of a pandemic with so many unknowns ahead. Tong knows her biggest challenge will be making sure the parents, students and teachers all feel comfortable and confident in the new learning plan.
“Everyday it could change,” acknowledges Tong. “Being flexible, adaptable, resilient—those are the skills we are going to need in order to really thrive and make sure our children are feeling confident and cared for, and to give them a sense of normalcy, even when the world is crazy out there.”
Tong credits the knowledge she gained in Chaminade’s Master of Education program with helping her navigate the complexity of the situation today. She had already had an extensive teaching career when she enrolled in the program in 2006, but Chaminade taught her about the business of running a school—the finance, law and human resources side of things. It gave her the solid foundation she needed to become a confident leader.
But even more so, her professors at Chaminade modeled what it meant to be a Catholic educator, something Tong is holding very near and dear today. Regardless of a child’s faith, Tong believes the Catholic education that Maryknoll helps shape children to become more responsible and caring citizens.
“When children see themselves and their role in the world as bigger than themselves, it’s always enlightening,” says Tong. “It sets the path for how they take care of other people, making difficult decisions when times are tough.”
That’s especially true in today’s world, as people struggle to navigate so much uncertainty. “Right now we’re in a pandemic,” says Tong. “I think more than ever, people need something to look forward to. As times change, faith gives you something to rely on, it gives you a sense of responsibility.”
Tong doesn’t know what this upcoming school year holds, but with her faith and a dedicated team of fellow leaders and mentors to help guide her, she feels confident in the journey ahead.