School’s namesake driven to help kids

Tanaka Elementary School’s namesake is a retired educator who cannot shake the role of educator. It is why he rarely visits his school at 9135 W. Maule Ave. He thinks it could be detrimental to the kids.

“I can be a distraction,” Wayne Tanaka said. “They’re supposed to be focused on instruction.”

Tanaka started his career in the Clark County School District in 1972 as a teacher at Bridger Middle School, 2505 N. Bruce St. In a sense, Tanaka was being groomed to be a teacher much earlier.

His mother taught second grade, and she enlisted her son’s help with classroom design and assignments. She taught him all the tricks of the trade, such as always putting the clock on the wall behind students so they do not become distracted.

Tanaka was born on Maui, Hawaii, in 1948. At age 5 he met his future wife, Sadie, at church.

She was not impressed, initially.

“The first time I was introduced to her, I bowed to her,” Tanaka said. “She turned away and buried her face in her grandma’s dress.”

The two attended the University of Utah after graduating high school in Hawaii. Tanaka was familiar with the Las Vegas area because he spent some time here as part of an exchange program with the Boy Scouts of America.

Tanaka served as an assistant principal and principal at several schools before his last stint at Clark High School, 4291 W. Pennwood Ave., from 1993 to 2001.

Rick Eurich was a student at Clark while Tanaka was principal. Eurich is the athletic director at Del Sol High School, 3100 E. Patrick Lane. Eurich worked for years with special education students at Clark and the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy before moving to Del Sol. He attributed his fulfilling career to his former principal.

“Every time I ran into the guy, he would ask me how I’m doing,” Eurich said. “He talked me into getting my butt back into school. … Tanaka would be in my ear, he wouldn’t let me hear the end of it. With his influence and pressure, I went back and got my master’s in special education.

“I owe 100 percent of my success to Wayne. I can’t say enough about the guy. He took me under his wing. He was like a second father to me.”

Tanaka said he did his best work with kids who struggled in school. Another former student, J. Dapper, attested to that.

Dapper said he would not have graduated high school in 1996 without Tanaka as his principal. Dapper transferred to Clark from a nearby high school and was glad he did.

“Mr. Tanaka gave me a lot of second chances,” Dapper said. “He helped me along. He knew I wasn’t a bad kid. He made sure that I did everything I needed to do to stay in school.”

Dapper said he would have been expelled his senior year for the trouble he often got into, but Tanaka kept him in school.

Dapper is a member of the Clark County Planning Commission, a real estate developer and a restaurant owner.

“I think that, more than anything, he’s just a real guy who really, truly cares about kids,” Dapper said. “You’d be walking through the halls, and he’d throw his arms around you and ask you how you’re doing. I was lucky to know him.”

Tanaka helped open several charter schools in the valley after his departure from the school district. He has three kids and a 2-year-old grandson.

At 63, Tanaka said he is honored to have his name on a school.

“It also means that for the remainder of your life in this town, you must be very, very good,” Tanaka said, laughing.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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