Friday, April 21, 2000

Big Isle charter
school OKd

Connections School is
the first to be chartered
under a 1999 state law

By Mary Adamski

A Big Island group of educators and parents that wants to operate a small elementary school in Mountain View is the first to be chartered under the New Century Public Charter School Law passed last year by the state Legislature.

The state Board of Education last night approved a charter for Connections School, which has operated for years as a school-within-a-school program at Mountain View Elementary School. The charter school will continue to operate on the same campus with the public school.

The board has received letters of intent from 40 organizations interested in establishing schools under the law that frees them from the public school bureaucracy and exempts them from most laws except those pertaining to collective bargaining, discrimination and health and safety.

"We are trying to maintain a small-school environment within a large school," said sixth-grade teacher John Thatcher. Connections will offer one class per grade level, which, he said, "makes it possible to have a sequential education. The transition is much easier for a kid than if you mix and redistribute them each year. The other difference is that it is a school of choice, giving parents a lot more ownership.

"Hawaii's elementary schools are the largest in the nation," Thatcher said. "Anything you do to make schools smaller will make them better."

Lei Desha, a field-services officer with the Hawaii Government Employees Association, told the board that the union wants to be assured it is involved in the review of charter school applications. The union, which represents school principals, clerical and food-service workers, is not against implementing the charter school law, she said, but "we expect the department to communicate with us on personnel issues that involve our bargaining units."

Art Kaneshiro, Department of Education administrator who is coordinating charter negotiations with several other schools, told the board, "It's not easy work; it's scary at times, but it's exciting."

The charter school system "allows for innovation; it gives a school flexibility and it can help the whole system to learn and grow," Kaneshiro said.

The board granted the charter with a disclaimer asserting that approval does not obligate the board fiscally or otherwise, and that it is assured that collective-bargaining provisions for school staff are intact.

Board members Mike Victorino and Garrett Toguchi voted "nay." Victorino said the charter leaves details dangling in areas such as accountability of staff and teachers, and a management plan of facilities to be shared with the public elementary school. "There's too many unanswered questions. If we approve it and it goes awry, we are responsible," Victorino said.

Each of the prospective New Century Charter Schools was eligible for a $96,000 federal grant to get started and each will get state funding based on a per-pupil allotment.

2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin