Views divided on proposed school split
Some say separating Nanakuli High and Intermediate schools would relieve peer pressure
Sixteen-year-old Theresa Ani fears her younger sister and two brothers will be exposed to drugs and alcohol when they enter Nanakuli High and Intermediate School this coming school year.
The junior was among some 40 people who came for a two-hour meeting at the school last night to debate whether seventh- and eighth-graders should be separated from high school students to improve safety. They appeared to be split on the issue.
When she entered Nanakuli Intermediate, Ahi said, she and her friends had to fight against seniors who pressured them into drinking alcohol.
"My seventh-grade year was so bad," she said. "Fights, drugs, all of that. I had to learn the hard way."
But reaction was mixed as to whether dividing the school would solve problems of older students dating younger ones and negatively influencing them.
English teacher Kimo Kelii suggested a five-year plan to split the 60-acre campus, starting with construction of a fence in the 2007-08 school year that would limit access to two buildings to intermediate students. Kelii said seniors tend to bully seventh-graders at the cafeteria and demand their lunch money.
"This would at least, in a symbolic way, give middle school students a safe place," he said of the proposed fence.
School administrators, however, said the plan, which would make a new science lab off-limits to high-schoolers, could fail if students were to jump over or put holes on the fence.
Vice Principal Flora Nash believes the school should remain intact and that its staff and the Waianae community need to stress social norms to students. She said by interacting with each other, students will improve social skills and be ready for college and jobs.
"I'm an optimist," she said. "For me, the physical separation, it really is a bad thing."
Principal Levi Chang told parents, teachers and students attending the meeting that if the school had been divided four years ago, it could have gained as much as $600,000 under the Weighted Student Formula, which gives schools money based on individual student need. Enrollment at the school has been declining for several years and is now at 1,210, of whom 402 are intermediate students.
But Chang said funding concerns should not be a priority.
"We want to do the best thing in the interest of the kids," he said.
The school will take feedback from last night's meeting to make a recommendation to the state Department of Education on whether the students should be separated, Chang said, without saying when that will happen.
Nanakuli is among six Hawaii public high schools that share campuses with students from lower grades.