Longtime Hilo High principal reflects on career

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald Bob Dircks, principal at Hilo High School for 14 years, retired at the end of December.

“Mr. Dircks!”

Former Hilo High School Principal Bob Dircks greeted the smiling man, clearly a former student, with handshake and a brief hug on Friday morning.

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That happens all the time, said Dircks, who quietly retired at the end of December from the post he held for 14 years.

“First and foremost, it’s always about what I can do to improve the school and improve myself,” Dircks, 67, said Friday. “So I knew deep down inside I was getting close to retirement. My age was of such that I qualified for retirement, but it was within the last couple of years my mom’s health condition started to be challenged.”

As an only child, Dircks said he decided he needed to help care for his mother, who lives on Oahu.

Dircks began his career in education a little later than most.

He served in the U.S. Navy from 1971-1975, then worked for Honolulu Fire Department for 14 years, where he was a firefighter and fire inspector.

He was the fire safety manager at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for another five years before going back to college.

Dircks was in his late 30s when he entered education, teaching at Kohala elementary and middle schools before entering the administrative ranks.

He served as vice principal at Kealakehe Intermediate and Hilo Intermediate schools, and principal at Mountain View Elementary before moving to Hilo High.

“I’ve always said high schools are the last frontier, because once (the students) leave the high schools, they leave the educational system and they’re out on their own, per se, whether it be work, military or college. … The social environment changes drastically for them, so we try to make it a good experience for them at least in the last four years.”

During his time at Hilo High, Dircks said he’s witnessed a lot of changes.

“I think one of them is the demands that’s been placed on schools to ensure students are competitive in the world once they leave the last frontier,” he said. “… I think teaching students to think about others, not just about themselves (is important), because relationships and the ability to communicate are very, very critical to do well in this world nowadays.

“It’s not always about languages and everything else, although it helps,” he continued. “It’s always about your ability to work with others. I think that’s the key — building those relationships, no matter how old you are or where you are in life. So for me, that was the biggest change, is the need to prepare our kids for the next levels.”

Parenting has also changed “dramatically,” during his time at the high school.

“The expectations of raising well-rounded children are always on the parents, and it should be, but I think that the parents have their own lives they must reckon with, as well as raising children in a world that’s full of changes.”

Dircks said his work has always been about the kids, and seeing the growth of students he had as an elementary principal, “it makes me sort of feel like, wow, maybe I did something right with our staff when they were in elementary and middle school, and now they’re in high school,” he said when asked about his biggest accomplishments. “I think that’s it. Watching the growth. That’s an accomplishment for me.”

The school’s new gym is also a point of pride for the educator, as is the work of the Hilo High School Foundation, which is made up of “very driven alumni.”

Now that his tenure at the school is over, Dircks said he’ll most miss the camaraderie of the faculty and staff.

“Everybody works together, whether it be a teacher, an educational assistant, custodian, cafeteria worker, they all work very hard and all together, and they knew why — it was because it was all for the kids,” he said, getting emotional.

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Dircks will be succeeded by new Hilo High Principal Jasmine Urasaki, who begins Tuesday.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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