Punahou School, located at 1601 Punahou Street, is one of the best private grade schools in Honolulu, Hawaii. The school is rather large and has roughly 3,800 students from grades Kindergarten through 12th grade as of 2019.
Founded in 1841, the school has a rich history and a wide variety of programs. The school's most famous alumnus, Barack Obama, graduated in 1979. Along with academics and athletics, Punahou offers visual and performing arts programs. Punahou has a wonder athletic program, and was ranked best sports program in the country by Sports Illustrated in 2008 and 2009.
As a father of a two year old and a daughter on the way, I've been thinking a lot about where to send my children to school in Honolulu. If you're reading this article, I'm sure you're thinking the same thing too.
At the end of the day, all we parents want are happy, well-adjusted kids, who can learn in a safe and nurturing environment. There are many great public schools. But if you can afford private school, many parents choose this route due to the extra buy-in from parents who may participate more in school and their children's lives. After all, if you're going to spend over $25,000 a year in after-tax dollars, you're incentivized for your children to do well!
Punahou School Review
“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.” – Abigail Van Buren.
It's probably wrong to throw a lot of money at children. They might become jaded into thinking that money simply grows on trees. Socioeconomic diversity is one of the biggest reasons why I'm a proponent of sending our children to public schools.
I went to private international school growing up in Japan and Taiwan for elementary school and middle school. I then attended a public high school in Virginia and The College of William & Mary, a public college in Virginia. All my experiences were great, but it is in public high school where I really felt like I was exposed to the real world that made me hustle like no other.
I strongly believe nurture is the biggest determinant of who we become as adults. We can argue whether nurture plays a 51% role or a 90% role compared to nature. But it's clear there's a strong correlation between how we raise our children and how good of a citizen our children turn out to be.
Given the importance of nurturing our kids, it's logical to conclude getting the best grade school education possible before adulthood is a good idea. We've only got one shot at raising our kids to be outstanding citizens. After they turn 18, whether they go to public college, private college, community college, or no college is up to them because we've already provided them the best education possible to decide on their own.
But it is absolutely subjective whether a private grade school or a public grade school creates better adults. The only thing we parents can do is do our best to provide the best environment for our children.
Punahou School Review
My wife and I spent a good three hours visiting Punahou and talking to several students, administrators, and teachers. For reference, my aunt and both nieces went to Punahou as well.
Good Relative Value
While it regularly costs $40,000+ in tuition plus another $25,000 in room and board and fees at many private universities, Punahou is a relative bargain at $24,780 for grades 9 – 12 for the 2019/2020 school here. If we divide the tuition by the nine months the kids are in school, we get $2,753.33 per month.
Given students are in school from 8am – 3pm on average a day, they are in school for roughly 140 – 154 hours a month. That comes out to $18.5 / hour. That's pretty cheap given it costs $60 – $100 / hour to pay a licensed electrician or plumber to fix anything in your house. Baby sitting / childcare costs also regularly cost $20 – $25/hour.
If you compare the monthly or hourly cost of private grade school to daycare cost, the cost is right in line as well. But while you're in grade school, you should theoretically be learning much more in a class room than from your babysitter or day care professional.
Therefore, paying $24,780 to attend private grade school seems like a reasonable sum to pay. However, to pay $24,780 a year in tuition, you must earn about $35,000 a year in gross salary if you have a 30% effective tax rate.
Every teacher cares about their students, just to different degrees. At Punahou, it seems like the teachers not only really care about their students, they also feel empowered because their students respect them. Many of the teachers are alumni who uphold the traditions of the school.
Further, if you know your parents are paying ~$25,000 a year in tuition, there is this implicit assumption that you better try and learn as much as possible and make the best use of your time, lest you want to waste your parents' money.
My wife and I were sitting at a library table resting from our tour of the campus when an English teacher by the name of Paul Hamamoto came up to us and asked if he could provide any guidance. He told us how the library was actually called the learning center because the school wants to share new career paths the students may not otherwise consider.
We loved hearing such out-of-the-box thinking because the world changes quickly. To hammer home the same old routine of going to college to become a lawyer doesn't do kids justice. I never would have imagined living my current lifestyle of being an early retiree and making money online when I was in school.
Paul taking the time to sit down with us was a great demonstration of care. It wasn't just Paul who came up to us either. A number of teachers and administrators asked whether they could help us out and answer any questions we had about the school. More caring teachers should go a long way to raise better people.
Strong Alumni Network
Life is easier with a stronger network. We like to take care of people with similar backgrounds, or at least give them a chance to compete. Punahou is one of the largest private schools on Oahu with roughly 3,800 students from K – 12. Each year graduates roughly 400 students who attend universities all over the U.S. and the world. Therefore, Punahou should have an advantage over smaller private schools.
In addition to President Obama, also on the list of alumni are Steve Case (founder of AOL), Sun Yat-sen (politician), Kelly Preston (actress), Emily Chang (Bloomberg West TV host) and many more. The more recognized a school is and its list of alumni, perhaps the easier it is to get a job, raise capital for a business, or build your clientele.
Large Academic Curriculum
The very essence of school is to learn something new that will guide students towards a more fulfilling life. Private schools tend to have a wider array of classes because they have more flexibility and funding.
If your kid wants to learn more about Ruby On Rails, laser cutting, glass blowing, or maybe even online media, there may be a deeper opportunity for your child to learn something a public school student may not.
I love art and guitar. But there weren't many options for me to go deep into either field during grade school. I can always try and catch up now as an adult, but it's much easier to learn as a kid.
A Safer Environment
My biggest worry as a parent is that my kid will get bullied, beat up, made fun of, killed, or fall into a bad crowd. I got into fights several times when I was in public high school because I fought back against bullies.
I also occasionally hung out with kids who smoked, drank, did drugs, shoplifted and rode motorbikes illegally. As a result, I paid for my association and behavior with suspensions, community service, and more. I now realize I stressed my parents out when I was in high school and could have used a more structured environment growing up.
Parents who are willing to fork out $25,000+ in tuition must either care a lot about education or are simply rich enough to pay. They could be the most checked out parents ever, but for 8 hours a day, their kids are getting exposed to faculty who do care a great deal. Hopefully with more caring or wealthier parents, there will be less bad apples in the classroom.
If your classmates are poor, then they're either attending on a merit scholarship or they realize the massive sacrifice their parents are making to send them to private school. As a result, both types of classmates are probably normal if not outstanding students.
Of course there will be the occassional spoiled rich kid who doesn't give a damn about anybody. But hopefully they are few and far between.
Private Or Public Grade School?
If you can't afford private grade school, I wouldn't feel bad or worry. The public school system is good enough and regularly sends kids to some of the best universities around the country.
Just check where your local public high school sent their graduates to see for yourself. I went to a public high school, public college, and public business school (UC Berkeley) and am a big fan of the public school system.
It's good to get exposed to kids from all different socioeconomic backgrounds. It's good to not have your hand held every step of the way. You can always take accelerated courses if you want a challenge.
My best friend from McLean High School got into Cooper Union and now works for a large non-profit. My other friend went to Virginia Tech and is a cybersecurity engineer at a huge tech firm. Another friend also went to Virginia Tech and is CEO of his own cloud storage company.
Our salutatorian went to The College of William & Mary like me, and is now a cardiologist.
I had a 13-year career in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, making Vice President by 27 and retiring at 34 because I had enough passive income to cover my desired life's living expenses. Since I left in 2012, I've been able to grow Financial Samurai into one of the top independently run personal finance sites in the world with over 1.5 million organic pageviews a month.
In other words, we public school graduates turned out just fine.
Where Punahou School Graduates Go To College
One of the ultimate barometers of whether a private grade school is worth it or not is where the graduates end up going to college. At Punahou, 99% of all graduates attend college.
Here's a look at the latest college matriculation information attended by two or more Punahou School graduates over the last FOUR YEARS. Don't be confused into thinking it's by the latest graduate class.
There are some great schools represented on the list such as: Amherst College (7), Boston College (7), Brown University (6), UCLA (33), Cal Tech (4), Columbia University (4), Cornell University (15), Dartmouth College (9), Duke University (7), Georgetown University (9), Harvard University (14!), Johns Hopkins (9), Princeton University (7), Stanford University (14), and Yale University (9).
What I find very interesting is that a whopping 108 of graduates ended up attending Hawaii U of Manoa, the local public university. Hawaii U of Manoa has roughly an 85% acceptance rate, which means there's no need to spend $25,000 a year for 13 years in private grade school.
Most public school students get accepted to Hawaii U of Manoa. Therefore, if you can't comfortably afford Punahou's tuition and/or don't think your child will really benefit from a Punahou education, to pay even higher tuition at a private university, then Punahou may not be for you.
That said, even if your kid does go to Hawaii U of Manoa, it's fine because at least you did your best to pay for the highest quality grade school education possible. Some kids may just want to stay close to home. It's Hawaii after all. After graduating from UH, the graduate can work and then go to graduate school if something else piques his or her interest.
Determining Whether You Can Afford Punahou School
If you send your kids to public school, I recommend being more involved as a parent to make sure they're hanging out with a good crowd. Instill in your children a work ethic that gives them the most opportunity to succeed, regardless of their level of intelligence. As long as you're present in your child's development, I'm confident your child will turn out just fine. Besides, it's hard to beat free tuition. You can use the money you would have spent on private school tuition on extra lessons after school instead.
If you can afford private grade school, you should strongly consider sending your kid for all the reasons I've stated above. Everybody has a different definition of what “afford” means. A good minimum level of household income to afford private grade school is probably ~5X private school tuition per child e.g. $20,000 tuition, $100,000 household income per child. But again, everybody's expenses are different, so it's hard to say. Let's hope there are enough grants to go around to those families on the edge.
A quality education is one of the best gifts a parent could ever give. Why not pay up for a broader curriculum with dedicated teachers and a nice campus if you can afford to. Whether they go to Harvard or State U doesn't matter so long as they turn out to be good people.
Recommendation To Afford Private School Tuition
Paying for private school is no joke. You may have to work longer and delay retirement as a result. You might also feel more stress at home if times get tight. The last thing you want to do is pull your kids out of private school due to a lack of funds.
I recommend calculating all your estimated expenses over the next 5-10 years using Personal Capital's free financial planner to make sure you're not putting your retirement cash flow at risk.
Below is an example of some Income and Spending inputs I created to see what would happen to my retirement cashflow if I started paying $25,000 a year in private school tuition in 2023 for 12 years.
I've been using Personal Capital's free tools to track my net worth and plan my retirement cashflow since 2013. They have absolutely the best free software to use on your laptop or mobile phone.
There's no rewind button in life. Best to plan ahead, be conservative with your financial forecasts, save aggressively, and be as involved in your child's life as possible!
About the Author: Sam worked in investing banking for 13 years at GS and CS. He received his undergraduate degree in Economics from The College of William & Mary and got his MBA from UC Berkeley. In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his investments that now generate roughly $250,000 a year in passive income, most recently helped by real estate crowdfunding. He spends most of his time playing tennis and taking care of his family. Financial Samurai was started in 2009 and is one of the most trusted personal finance sites on the web with over 1.5 million pageviews a month.