Wailupe and Aina Haina schools merge smoothly


POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2009

Two weeks into the school year, former students and teachers at the now-shuttered Wailupe Valley Elementary School have made a smooth transition at Aina Haina Elementary, says fourth-grade teacher Cheryl Dung.

“;I thought it would be (difficult), but the teachers here are very supportive in everything that I do,”; said Dung, who taught at Wailupe Elementary for 15 years. “;I was more concerned about the children and their transition here.”;

Wailupe Valley Elementary closed on July 1, marking a bittersweet 50th anniversary for the small school.

About 60 of the 75 students and three of seven teachers transferred to nearby Aina Haina.

Dung talked to former Wailupe students who now attend Aina Haina and said that they like it and have made new friends. She also remains in contact with former Wailupe parents who had positive reactions.

“;It's been a big adjustment, but the sense that I'm getting is that it's a positive thing all around,”; said Dung.

Dung said she likes teaching at Aina Haina, but it is not the same as the more intimate Wailupe Valley campus. “;It's a different type of environment. Normally, I'm able to learn the (names of the) whole school in the first two weeks, but now I hardly see the lower grades.”;

The Board of Education closed Wailupe on the recommendation of a task force to save $800,000 annually and give students more opportunities for social and academic activities. The task force noted that overall student achievement was higher at Aina Haina, so students would benefit from the academic culture.

Many parents opposed the merger, saying their children would lose the “;family feel”; of Wailupe Valley and would “;fall through the cracks”; at a larger school, the task force reported.

Carl Young had two children at Wailupe and is still upset that the school closed. “;Now we have overcrowded classrooms because of students transferring from private schools and the absorbing of all the Wailupe kids. The student is suffering,”; Young said.

His daughter and son attended Wailupe Valley last year but transferred to Niu Valley Intermediate and Aina Haina Elementary, respectively. “;He does fine, he's doing well,”; Young said of his son adjusting to the merger. “;I like Aina Haina, but there are a bunch of other schools earmarked for closure. Not everyone is going to be lucky enough to have Aina Haina ... down the street.”;

Aina Haina Principal Brendan Burns said enrollment increased to 645 students after the merger, up from to 548 last school year. Wailupe Valley had 75 students when it closed, he said.

Burns said that the average class size at Aina Haina is in the low 20s for lower grades and upper 20s for higher grades. “;Compared to a lot of other elementary schools across the state, that's average,”; he said. “;We have no classrooms above 30 (students).”;

To accommodate the increase in students, Aina Haina has added more teachers and transferred furniture and student desks from Wailupe. Burns said he is also trying to get portable facilities and pave the dirt parking lot in front of the school.

Despite the controversial merger, Burns said the school year has gotten off to a good start. “;I have received no complaints. Everyone's working together, trying to get it to work.”;