HONOLULU (KHON2) — In 1883, the wealthiest individual in the Hawaiian Kingdom, Princess Ruth Ke’elikōlani, had a Victorian-style mansion named Hale Keōua constructed on her property in Honolulu. The property eventually became known as Central Middle School.
On Friday, Sept. 17, the name of this institution had been changed back to bring homage to the royal princess and her home.
To find out more, we spoke with the school’s principal, Principal Joe Passantino.
With this name change taking effect immediately on Friday, what is the significance?
“I think it’s a profound opportunity for our kids to have a true sense of belonging, to understand their history, to respect the ali’i of Hawai’i and for our kids to be prideful of the space that they occupy,” said Passantino.
“Our teachers played an instrumental role in all of this when they started this in 2019. And one teacher, in general, is our librarian Holly Gates who led the charge.”
We joined with Holly Gates.
What was the push and how challenging was this process?
“When I came here, I started diving into the file cabinets and I found all kinds of things,” Gates said. “I realized that this used to be the palace of Princess Ruth Ke’elikōlani, and I got to thinking why is it called Central Middle School? And that’s how it started.”
What were the changes since then, and how did the school come about?
“When she bequeathed it to Pauahi Bishop, the palace, itself, became a school, and then the rest of the palace got torn down in 1926,” Gates explained. “And then they decided to change the name in 1928 to Central Grammar School.”
With this name change going back to honoring the princess, what is the value for the students here today?
“One of our big mission statements is Onipa’a — resiliency, trustworthy, dedication,” said Passantino. “We want our students to be leaders of our community and following her and being, now, housed in her home and our school being named after her, I think we have a great opportunity to push our students even further.”
The school’s name used to be Ke’elikōlani School during its earlier years. However, because many people could not pronounce that name, it was changed to Central Grammar School — which eventually became Central Middle School.