Damien’s new head of school hoping to steady a campus in tumult

Damien community hopes leadership change will help restore trust to embattled school

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kyle Atabay first found out that something was afoot at Damien Memorial School when he got an email at 8 a.m. Thursday.

“The message came on from one of the brothers on the mainland to call him immediately,” said Atabay, who has served as Damien’s principal ― essentially the second-in-command ― for the last two years.

He made the call, and found out that Brother Brian Walsh would not be returning as school president.

Walsh had come under fire, first after he abruptly canceled this year’s graduation ceremonies, and then reversed himself, causing an uproar among students and their families.

“When you hear from so many different constituents about a certain thing that it’s hard to overlook,” he said. “And so that’s how we got to this, where we’re at right now.”

Walsh also had dismissed as many as 20 of the school’s faculty and staff members, including had football coach Eddie Klaneski and the boys’ and girls’ basketball coaches.

Atabay isn’t ready to reverse the personnel changes, but he plans to look at how many positions he’ll need for the coming school year.

“And so there is the possibility that we’ll need to re-hire, or hire. And yes, if they’re still interested, we’ll probably be going to those people first,” he said.

Atabay said fall enrollment is now at nearly 650 students, a hundred more than expected. He said his first priority is to determine exactly how classes can reopen in the fall, and hopes to have more information ready next week.

The Christian Brothers who run the school also said Atabay would work to re-establish the school’s board of directors, which Walsh largely ignored.

“He would have much to do with the board. It was his way or the highway,” said Honolulu attorney and board member Paul Cunney. “He wasn’t inclusive at all.”

Atabay is the first alumnus to run the school, which other alums welcome.

“I remember him by face because the campus was so small. It still is a small neighborhood school at its core,” said Arnold Laanui, who graduated in 1986. “I’m kinda confident. I’m hoping that he’ll bring his best efforts as the school goes forward.”

Cunney is also confident in the school’s future.

“I think after all the doom and bloom of the last couple of days at Damien, I think Father Damien interceded up there in heaven and made this move.”

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