A School Modeled For Success

By Dan White
Wednesday - September 23, 2009
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By Dan White
Headmaster of Island Pacific Academy

Sometimes to succeed in business you have to break the mold.

Island Pacific Academy (IPA) exists as the 13th largest independent, nonprofit school in a state replete with independent schools, occupying more than 70,000 square feet of modern, air-conditioned classroom space because three people.

All because a developer and two educational consultants tossed out the old model.

Typically, independent schools begin with small enrollments in leased space organized around a charismatic leader. They struggle, for students, financial resources and recognition until they reach some tipping point when they either catch on and take off, or fold.

We knew our location appealed to families in west and central Oahu. We wanted stunning physical space to catch the attention of parents, whose independent school options were a congested freeway away. Our business model depended upon attracting big numbers fast. So we borrowed and built. And people came.

Larry Caster, Judy White and I developed the business plan, the educational program, the physical facility, the admissions process and collateral materials, and the founding faculty. Then we sought capital funding. In September 2003, Ryan Harada of Central Pacific Bank looked at the business plan and saw the same potential we envisioned. By February 2004, CPB was satisfied about a return on investment in IPA. In March, Kiewit Pacific began construction. And Sept. 13, 2004, 191 students in grades PK-7 arrived for the first day of school.

Dan White with IPA seniors Jazmin Kawamura-Carvalho, James Okeke and Brittney Johnston

CPB and Kiewit’s commitment was crucial. Also critical was the confidence of those first families. Judy and I explained to every family that our goal was to graduate good people who understood the value of human kindness and demonstrated a generosity of spirit. We went on to describe the enriched academic program that emphasized curiosity, creativity and knowing how to learn - solid preparation for college and for life.

By year two, IPA had doubled in size to 400. Anticipating the need for additional space for a high school, the school asked CPB for a second loan to build an even larger building, completed in Fall 2006, for a student body of 520, including 9th graders. Those original freshmen and others now comprise the 45 seniors graduating in 2010, IPA’s first graduating class. Total school enrollment stands at 650 after just five years.

We were confident the enrollment would be there if we could attract attention and then deliver on our promises of an outstanding program and a school culture that embraced respect, kindness and civility.

Our business plan did not anticipate the economic downtown, of course - whose did? But our families have stuck with us, we’ve increased funding for financial aid for families who need it, and we’ve been frugal in our expenditures.

Any golfer knows the importance of timing. We got the business rolling enough in advance of the recession to have some momentum. Plus, the appeal of our founding values has seemed to increase in a world which is too often not kind or generous. People still pay for value.

New mold? Paying for value is old business wisdom.

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