Kamehameha Schools makes the right move


POSTED: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kamehameha Schools has been embroiled in controversy for more than a decade, back to the days when it went by the moniker Bishop Estate. Nothing provides more evidence that the institution has turned to the future than its decision to embark on an ambitious, $100-million learning center in Leeward Oahu, a poverty-plagued area that is home to the state's largest concentration of native Hawaiians.

With the help of an initial donation of 66 acres in Makaha Valley by the Weinberg Trust and an investment company headed by developer Jeffrey R. Stone, Kamehameha Schools plans to erect a Learning Innovation Complex. It may be the institution's biggest project since it began moving into its Kapalama Heights campus in 1930.

The project is expected to be developed over the next five to 15 years, eventually replacing the Weinberg-Stone entities' Makaha Valley Country Club. The plan also features housing and community development by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands on an adjoining 234 donated acres, including the golf course itself. Ironically, while Kamehameha Schools is the state's largest landowner, it has no land on the Waianae Coast.

The Makaha Valley project should fulfill in a large way what was said to be the commitment by Dee Jay Mailer, the schools' chief executive officer, to Kamehameha's plan to provide more outreach and education to native Hawaiian children. The center is to act as a laboratory for teachers and a site for supporting education for Hawaiians from birth through adulthood. A special focus will be on those said to be the most in need — preschool children.

“;It's as though a dream was coming true,”; Mailer told the Star-Bulletin's Susan Essoyan. Mailer said the schools “;are building on the strength that already exists in those communities, from Kapolei to Kaena Point. It is about using our resources to help build capacity throughout that coast, building up the existing schools.”;

Kamehameha Schools now serves 5,400 of the state's 75,000 Hawaiians of school age, and Mailer pointed out that it would be unrealistic to try educating all of them as full-time Kamehameha students. The learning complex appears to be aimed at enhancing education for those not in attendance at its campuses.

Mailer, a 1970 Kamehameha graduate, was named to her position in 2003 to bring what trustee J. Douglas Ing hoped would be “;closure to years of controversy and crisis.”; Gone are the days when the then-Bishop Estate was mismanaged by trustees politically-picked by the state Supreme Court and given commissions of close to $1 million a year.

The schools are expected to continue defending its controversial Hawaiians-only admission policy. For the time being, that issue can be put aside as Kamehameha justifiably exudes enthusiasm about taking a major step toward fulfilling the mission of Bernice Pauahi Bishop.