Posted on: Thursday, April 20, 2000

Big Island school up for charter

Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

A reform movement in Hawaiiís public schools will take another step forward tonight, with the Board of Education likely to approve a charter for the Big Islandís Connections school.

Connections, which has been operating as a school-within-a-school at Mountain View Elementary, is the first to meet the stateís new requirements for New Century charter schools. Winning charter status guarantees the programís survival, which has been questioned by the Mountain View principal.

Charters are free to manage their own money and experiment with curriculum. At the same time, they must open their doors to all students and follow state academic standards.

Connections will open as a charter school in August with about 160 students. Like many prospective charter applicants, Connections is a small school, giving students more one-on-one attention.

"Being a charter will make it much easier for us," said Connections teacher John Thatcher. "We will have much more flexibility."

One major benefit will be a newfound freedom from the stateís mountain of paperwork, he said.

"If we want to do something like a field trip, we wonít have to go through the myriad of red tape that we have to go through now," Thatcher said.

Charter schools guarantee accountability of teachers and administrators, Thatcher said, because charters can be revoked if schools donít meet standards.

Charters also foster the involvement of parents and there is a strong feeling of ohana at Connections, said parent Dr. Laura Moire. School board chairman Mitsugi Nakashima doesnít anticipate difficulties approving the charter. However, he said, there are some questions about the charter process overall.

One of those is financing. Nakashima said itís unlikely the Legislature will approve additional money for the schools this year. While the financial formula for charters has yet to be developed, there are concerns that charters could place a burden on the system.

Last year, the Legislature paved the way for 25 New Century charter schools statewide and is considering another 22 charter slots this session. About 40 groups have expressed interest in gaining charter status. The department is expected to approve four more charters in the next week. They are the West Hawaii Explorations Academy in Kailua-Kona; Kanu o Ka ĎAina Public Charter School in HonokaĎa; Ke Kula Niihau O Kekaha in Kekaha; and Ka Lamaku Hawaiian Academy in Hauula. All plan to open in the fall.