James Kapae`alii Scott was born in Honolulu and graduated from Punahou School in 1970. He received an A.B. in political science from Stanford University before joining the Robert Louis Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, Calif. as a history teacher and baseball coach. He later served as academic dean, while earning an M.A. in Private School Leadership at the University of San Francisco. In 1983, he entered Harvard University, receiving a master's degree and doctorate in Administration, Planning and Social Policy. While working toward his degrees, Scott was the headmaster at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon. In 1994, he returned to Hawai`i to become the 16th president of Punahou School.
Scott is actively engaged in leadership roles at the local and national levels, having served as a trustee of The College Board and chair of the Secondary School Admission Test Board from June 2006 – 2008. He is a director of Hawaiian Electric Industries, a trustee of the Barstow Foundation, and a member of The Klingenstein Center Advisory Board, Country Day School Headmasters’ Association of the U.S., INMAX (Independent Schools with Maximum Complexity), and the National Association of Independent Schools. Scott has been a featured speaker at several national conferences and symposia. In 2009, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District VII recognized Scott with its inaugural Chief Executive Leadership Award for Independent Schools. The National Association of Independent Schools in 2011 honored Scott with the prestigious Diversity Leadership Award.
Under Scott’s leadership, Punahou School has achieved notable milestones, including recognition as an Apple Distinguished School; being named top Green School in America in 2006; and receiving the title of No. 1 high school athletics program in 2008 and 2009 from Sports Illustrated magazine. In 2010, Punahou initiated a partnership with three U.S. and four China schools to launch the Student Global Leadership Institute, which seeks to build an international cohort of student leaders committed to positive social change. The consortium of school expanded the following year to include students from Japan, Jordan and Singapore.
A hallmark of Scott's leadership at Punahou has been a deep commitment to increasing access to a Punahou education through a vigorous financial aid program. He has been an ardent champion of the public purpose of independent schools, creating a thriving environment for community initiatives at Punahou. In addition to the many professional development opportunities the school makes available to teachers throughout the state of Hawai`i, the Clarence T.C. Ching PUEO program deepens Punahou’s public purpose by encouraging college readiness among public school students with economic need. PUEO was recognized with a 2010 CollegeKeys Compact Innovation Award from the College Board as a model program for helping low-income students prepare for college.