Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Monday, August 14, 2000

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
On moving day for the new Kanu O Ka Aina Public Charter
School, Kekamaru Espere jumps off a truck full of donated
office furnishings as Ku Kahakalau, left, the school's director,
and Val Hanohano start unloading. Below, a place setting
in student instructor Prana Mandoe's classroom
at the Hale Kukui lab.

Charter schools

Autonomous schools spell
reform for a system tangled
in bureaucracy

It's the new catch phrase in education -- a concept to channel a particular school's focus and energy toward specific learning. A charter school gets life and will be sustained by a community's will for it to succeed. If the school thrives, backers believe, so will its children.

Bullet Who wants to be chartered?
Bullet Charter Differences
Bullet Four new schools to debut

By Crystal Kua

tudents attending Connections Public Charter School won't have to buy school supplies -- their school will pick up the tab for pencils, rulers, glue and necessities.

If Kanu O Ka Aina New Century Public Charter School wants to travel to Waipio Valley to work the taro patches, it doesn't have to file field-trip forms weeks in advance.

For West Hawaii Explorations Academy Public Charter School, buying a $1.33 head of lettuce to feed research fish will be as easy as going to the supermarket without a requisition form.

And Waters of Life Public Charter School will see its new school constructed in weeks instead of months or even years.

As first-time, regulation-free public schools this academic year, these four charter schools are seen as agents of reform in a public education experiment to improve learning.

All are on the Big Island and are the first to open under a law passed last year that allows new schools to achieve charter status.

Connections in Mountain View, Kanu O Ka Aina in Waimea and the West Hawaii Explorations Academy in North Kona began as schools within schools, while Waters of Life in Keaau will be a new school.

Who wants to be chartered?

Among 42 Hawaii schools, six have been approved as Charter Schools, 36 still in the application process.

The breakdown:

School Island Status
Alae Charter School Hawaii Applying
All-One of Maui Inc. Maui Applying
Connections Public Charter School Hawaii Chartered
E-School Oahu Applying
Hakipuu Learning Center Oahu Applying
Halau Ku Mana Public Charter School Oahu Applying
Halau Lokahi New Century Public Charter School Oahu Applying
Hana Kupono Cultural Learning Center Hawaii Applying
Innovations Public Charter School Hawaii Applying
Island Families New Century Charter School Oahu Applying
Ka Lamaku Hawaiian Academy Oahu Applying
Ka Waihona O Ka Naauao Public Charter School Oahu Applying
Kanu I Ka Pono Charter School Kauai Applying
Kanu o Ka Aina Public Charter School Hawaii Chartered
Ke Ana Laahana / Edith Kanakaole Foundation Hawaii Applying
Ke Kula Hoamana Kaiapuni Hawaii o Keaukaha Hawaii Applying
Ke Kula Niihau O Kekaha Kauai Applying
Ke Kula o Nawahiokalani‘opuu Hawaii Applying
Ke Kula o Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau Hawaii Applying
Kihei Public Charter High School Maui Applying
Kula Kaiepuni o Maui Public Charter School Maui Applying
Kula Kaiapuni O Anuenue Public Charter School Oahu Applying
Kupaa Charter School Oahu Applying
Lahaina School for the Performing Arts Maui Applying
Lanikai Elementary Oahu Chartered
Lokahi A Me Ka Maui Oia Charter Oahu Applying
Na Laukoa Hawaii Applying
Na Lima Paepae O Lele Maui Applying
New Perspective Charter School Hawaii Applying
Niihau School of Kekaha Maui Applying
North Shore Ohana Public Charter School Hawaii Applying
Pualaa Public Charter School Hawaii Applying
Voyager: A Public Charter School Oahu Applying
Shady Grove Public Charter School Hawaii Applying
Sudbury Valley School-Keaau Hawaii Applying
Sudbury School Maui Maui Applying
The Hawaii Academy of Arts & Sciences Hawaii Applying
The Upcountry Learning Consortium Hawaii Applying
Volcano School of Arts and Sciences Hawaii Applying
Waialae Elementary Oahu Chartered
Waters of Life Public Charter School Hawaii Applying
West Hawaii Explorations Academy Hawaii Chartered

Source: State Department of Hawaii

"I like the idea of charter schools. I think it's going to be the biggest change in our lifetime," said Cheryl Aue, a Hilo schoolteacher whose son attended the Connections program.

"People do not normally think outside of a framework of rows of chairs of students and having classrooms," West Hawaii teacher Bill Woerner said. "The charter school provides the opportunity to go outside those particular sets of walls."

But the innovation and autonomy that charter schools are trying to achieve could be derailed if schools get tangled in a bureaucracy they are trying to leave behind.

"They're making a community-based, parentally based school that meets the needs of the community, but at the same time they're doing this in the most centralized school district in the United States that has a history of controlling things top-down in education," said Nina Buchanan, a University of Hawaii-Hilo education professor who runs the Charter School Resource Center.

Despite changes last year, the law still received a "D" this year in an annual report from Center for Education Reform, a nonprofit charter school advocacy organization, because the center sees the law as still too restrictive.

Moving target

The lack of planning and preparation by the Department of Education for the ramifications of the 1999 law, along with its ambiguity, is leading some charter schools to "cave in" and make hasty decisions because they are trying to push to open on time this school year, Buchanan said.

"Because of the urgency, these schools will make a lot of compromises, and these compromises will change their schools' vision," she said.

These charter schools are trying to settle questions relating to money, facilities, union contracts, transportation and food service, aiming at what Buchanan calls a "moving target."

"Every time we get an opinion from somebody and we understand it well ... someone from a different department comes along and changes things," she said.

Buchanan said the key to success is for the charter schools to come together to speak as one voice.

Money equals power

The schools are being run by local governance boards, which are similar to the better-known school-community-based management, or SCBM, councils that now make decisions on school matters. But there is one big difference.

"If you're going to have real power, you have to be able to control the money in a school," said John Thatcher, a Connections teacher and a member of the Connections school board.

"We have money. Our board can spend money."

The cost and liability involved in servicing special-education students is the main reason the new charter schools will be leaving that task to the state. "I think for special ed and those concerns, we're really looking just at compliance," said Anne Kokubun, Hawaii District education specialist for special education.

Sick of the system

"I think people are just fed up in some ways," Thatcher said. "And what are you going to do when you're fed up? You can give up or you can try something different."

Parent Pua'ala Ni'au is disturbed that her younger son can't read and her older son wasn't doing well in the traditional public school, either. "I'm just sick of the system."

Ni'au turned to Kanu O Ka Aina.

But parents aren't the only ones dissatisfied.

"If you are in agreement with the principal and with the administration and in the direction the school wants to go, that's fine. But if you find yourself philosophically at odds, then you have nowhere to go." Thatcher said.

"Sometimes with the system, we are so ingrained with the traditional way," said Dan Sakai, Hawaii District Schools superintendent.

Climate for change

The Big Island has more charter schools planned than any other island -- for many reasons.

Some point to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind long-distance relationship between the state DOE offices in Honolulu and the neighbor islands.

"We've been so far from the seat of power and influence and access to the services from the DOE, we could just do it our way," Buchanan said.

The limited number of private schools on the Big Island has also left parents with few educational alternatives.

"There's not a whole lot of choice. If you want to get a good education, you gotta pay to get a good education. Now, here you can get a quality education and you no need pay," Ni'au said.

"Charter schools are popular because it gives people another option," said Kauanoe Chang, a DOE school-renewal specialist assisting charter schools.

The number of Hawaiian education schools also shows a desire for change for an entire culture.

"For us, it's trying to look at (charter schools) as a vehicle to prove that we can design and control our own education -- not just to the Western world but even to ourselves," said Ku Kahakalau, director of Kanu O Ka Aina.

Now, students are actually looking forward to going to school.

"I have a feeling it's going to be different since we're on our own," said Katrina Ortiz, a soon-to-be fifth grader at Connections.

School supplies


Facts about charter schools in Hawaii:

Bullet Publicly funded.
Bullet Free from laws and regulations except for collective bargaining, health and safety, discrimination and federal policies.
Bullet Held accountable for students' academic performance and monies spent through a contract or charter with the state.
Bullet Original charter school law came in 1994 and allowed only existing public schools to convert to charter schools. Waialae and Lanikai convert.
Bullet Change in the law in 1999 allows new schools to become charter schools with a limit of 25 charters.
Bullet DOE has received 40 new charter-school letters of intent; 21 received a federal grant for planning.
Bullet State auditor sets per-pupil, dollar-amount charter services that the school will be responsible for.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin