Big Island school
is charter trailblazer

Waimea Middle is the first
public school to pair with a
nonprofit of Kamehameha Schools

Waimea Middle School on the Big Island is now a charter school, the first public school to team up with a nonprofit that was founded by Kamehameha Schools in hopes of reaching more Hawaiian children.

"We're ecstatic," Principal Jon Znamierowski said yesterday after the Board of Education unanimously approved the Big Island school's application to convert to charter status.

"It's really going to be an opportunity for our school to bring additional resources and programs to the children and families in Waimea."

Waimea will stay in its current facilities and remain a public school but will gain access to funds, technical support and training through the nonprofit Ho'okako'o Corp. Kamehameha Schools has committed to providing $1 in funds for every $4 provided to the school by the Department of Education.

With the extra help, the school hopes to reduce class size, offer remedial reading and more programs for gifted students, and increase parental and community involvement, Znamierowski said. It will have its own local school board and be accountable to Ho'okako'o Corp. and the state Board of Education.

"It's always a little scary to be the first at anything, but we believe this new process can only make us a better school."

About 37 percent of Waimea Middle School's students are of Hawaiian ancestry, a percentage that is expected to grow to 50 percent over the next several years, Znamierowski said.

Charter schools operate under a charter, or contract, with the state that gives them more autonomy over their operations. A law passed last year paved the way for public schools to convert to charter schools with the help of Ho'okako'o Corp. Most of Hawaii's 25 other charter schools are start-ups.

"It's exciting because this is the first one under the new law," said Board of Education member Carol Gabbard. "They will receive added funds, which will allow them to do more, and they will have the freedom to do more innovative things."

A bill that will enhance state funding for charter schools and create an office to monitor and support them is awaiting Gov. Linda Lingle's signature.

"It will make it possible for the charters to survive," said Donna Estomago, president of the Hawaii Charter Schools Network. "It increases funds per pupil and counts every child, including special-education students."


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