COE Alumna and Director of the Executive Office of Early Learning

"I have learned that infants, toddlers, and young children must be at the center of our decision making."


Kāneʻohe, HI


Educational Foundations; School of Teacher Education - Elementary

Related Degrees

  • BEd, Elementary Education
  • MEd, Educational Foundations: Educational Leadership

COEAA Spotlight on Yuuko Arikawa-Cross

Growing Up

I was born and raised in Kāneʻohe in a multi-generational home. At our peak, there were eight of us – my tūtū and gran, dad who emigrated from Japan after meeting my mom who was dancing hula there, mom who was hānai (adopted) by my tūtū, older sister, younger sister, and two younger brothers. There are 13 years between my older sister and youngest brother.

I attended preschool and K–8 schools in Kāneʻohe and graduated from Kamehameha. My dad chose to stop attending school in the 8th grade, and my mom earned some credits at a community college. For these reasons, my parents prioritized education as a pathway to opportunity.

Road to Becoming an Educator

I had wonderful preschool, elementary, and middle school experiences. My teachers were supportive and caring, my schools had fun events which I looked forward to, and my kindergarten teacher and I have been in contact as recently as last year.

My mom and I attended multiple meetings for my youngest brother from the time he was in kindergarten because he struggled academically. It was because of his struggles that I knew I wanted to become an educator in an elementary public school.

College Years

The five years of my bachelorʻs program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa were tumultuous. I got pregnant, married, had two children, was pregnant with my third, separated from my husband, and graduated, giving birth to my son the month after graduation.

I was part of the Ka Lama O Ke Kaiāulu Cohort and received my Bachelor of Education in Elementary Education with an emphasis in family resources in 2000. When I graduated, I knew that I wanted to go for my master’s degree, so I applied for and was accepted to a program which was designed for people who were employed.

I graduated with my Masterʻs of Education in Educational Foundations: Educational Leadership in the Asia/Pacific Region in 2005.


  • Teacher, Literacy Coach, Curriculum Coordinator – Ka`ala Elementary School, Wahiawā, Hawai`i
  • Milken Educator Award winner (2010)
  • School Renewal Specialist, Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua Complex Area
  • Vice Principal, Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School
  • Principal, Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School
  • Director, Executive Office on Early Learning

Director of the Executive Office on Early Learning

I am the principal officer in the state government responsible for the performance, development, and control of programs, policies, and activities under the jurisdiction of the office from prenatal care to entrance into kindergarten, including all state-funded prekindergarten programs and private partnership-funded prekindergarten programs in the public schools, except for special education and Title I-funded prekindergarten programs. I am responsible for ensuring a spectrum of high-quality early learning opportunities for children throughout the state, from prenatal care until the time they enter kindergarten with priority given to underserved or at-risk children.

Since my appointment to this new position in May 2022, I have learned that infants, toddlers, and young children must be at the center of our decision making; a common vision of what we collectively hope for Hawaiʻi is critical to our success; and there are numerous organizations with highly competent individuals committed to this field. I have no doubt that we will bring a supportive system with increased access to the children and families of Hawaiʻi

Four Fun Facts

1. Iʻm in social media groups which help me be a better chicken mom, zoysia grass grower, and food producer.
2. I am a Patriots / Bucs / Tom Brady fan because the mascot carried my son at a school function in 2002 when they were in Hawaiʻi for the ProBowl.
3. Itʻs on our bucket list to ride camels out to the pyramids of Egypt.
4. I am the enamored grandma (Nala) of Nova and baby Lyons who is due in December.

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