Monday, August 14, 2000

Four new ones debut over the next few weeks, joining Waialae and Lanikai elementary as charter schools. In Hawaii, that brings the total to six; three dozen others are in the application process.

On this page, we profile the four charter newcomers, each on the brink of exciting potential, each full of hope for the future.

Kanu O Ka Aina New Century | Waters Of Life
West Hawaii | Connections

Autonomous schools spell reform

The making of a school

Star-Bulletin photographer George F. Lee recently went to Kawaihae to document planning for the new Kanu O Ka Aina Charter School. Here are some of his impressions.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Director Ku Kahakalau, left, and husband Nalei, an
instructor, at the Hale Kukui outdoor lab.


By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
A. J. Ni'au talks to Iini Kahakalau, left, and Marissa Nakano
at Hale Kukui's playroom, while brother Kalai
and Kalamalama Helekai play.


By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
A group of staffers and family members gather for an
instruction day at the Hale Kukui outdoor lab in Kawaihae
before the school year starts. Lindsay Levenson, 8,
sits among the adult planners.


By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Ku Kahakalau, above right, works with UH Experimental
Station staffers Trent Hata, left, and Angel Magno, to mark
a fence line for Kanu O Ka Aina's administration building.


By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Jenna Kawelo weaves a ti-leaf lei for a nearby heiau, as
Pakalana Helekai and her brother, Kalamalama, wait.


Learn by doing instead
of just sitting in class


By Crystal Kua

KAWAIHAE -- Kanani Lindsey, seated on a towel watching the waves roll into the harbor of this coastal community, recalled when she was a "not so great" student.

"I thought something was wrong with me," the sixteen-year-old said. "But now I know everybody is not the same, everybody has a different way of learning."

In the cowboy town of Waimea, a 20-minute drive up the road, Keli'i Ni'au recalled the days when he was failing in school.

But now, people bring their broken computers for this computer whiz to fix.

"It feels good," the 16-year-old said.

The difference for them was Kanu O Ka Aina, which uses the Hawaiian culture and values and technology as the basis.

Ku Kahakalau, Kanu's director, was a public-school Hawaiian language teacher who saw the failings of Hawaiian students early in her 15-year teaching career.

She said Kanu O Ka Aina is culturally, not linguistically driven like Hawaiian language immersion schools.

Kanu believes in bilingual education and multi-age learning because its students need to know how to live in both western and Hawaiian societies.

Another important component is that students are involved in project-based learning -- learning by doing.

Some of the projects include reforesting a bulldozed area with native plants, monitoring reefs, canoe building and researching the nearby heiau.

Kanu also uses outdoor learning laboratories in Kawaihae and Waipio Valley.

"It was more hands-on stuff," Lindsey said of a research project she did on Honokaa town. "We didn't just sit in class. We went to town and we talked to all the people in town. We did surveys and we went to the public library and got old newspaper clippings."

While facilities were a major headache -- as they are for many charter schools -- tenacity and support from family and the community led to Kanu obtaining a temporary site from the University of Hawaii agriculture experimental station in Waimea.

Parents helped scrub and clean the caretaker's cottage and warehouse that had been converted into offices and computer classrooms.



Location: Waimea, Big Island
Grades: Kindergarten through 12
Enrollment: 120
Focus: Hawaiian culture, bilingual education
Previously: School within a school at Honokaa High School
Start date: Aug. 21


Drawing back
disillusioned ex-students


By Crystal Kua

Davey Moriarty-Schieven is an energetic 7-year-old who stopped going to school because he was bored.

"School was too easy," he says.

Davey's mom is one of the organizers of the Waters of Life Public Charter School, which will try to fill a niche by bringing holistic education to Puna, a rural Big Island district about the size of Oahu.

Within the densely wooded subdivisions, kids are sometimes lost to the public-school system.

Cindy Moriarty estimates there are hundreds of school-age children who are currently being home-schooled or who have stopped going to school altogether.

"There are a lot of people who are mistrusting," she says.

These are the kinds of students that state education officials hope Waters of Life will draw back into the public school fold.

"We realized the kids needed a very different way of approaching education," Moriarty said. "So we developed a plan to fit the needs of the rural area where we are."

The school will focus on subjects such as career development, college preparatory skills, performing arts and healing arts.

Waters of Life is a new school and decided to go the charter track instead of going private because of money.

"Private school, you need to charge tuition, and it means that the kids we were the most concerned about couldn't attend," Moriarty said.

"We probably would end up only serving gifted and talented students who were pulled out of the public school system. We wouldn't be serving anybody else. And that's not our goal."

Waters of Life also doesn't have a home yet. They're construction school buildings in the shape of geodesic domes, which Moriarty said will be completed sooner than regular buildings.



Location: Keaau, Big Island
Grades: Kindergarten through 12
Enrollment: 186 to 200
Focus: Holistic education and special education
Start date: Sept. 11


New flexibility will fill
needs beyond books


By Crystal Kua

KEAHOLE, Hawaii -- Books vs. water.

Becoming a charter school for the science-based West Hawaii Explorations Academy at the state's Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii means having greater flexibility.

"We'll be able to do things financially that we haven't been able to do before," teacher Bill Woerner said.

In the past, money for the academy -- which has tackled research subjects from solar racing cars to studies on volcanic fog -- came from Konawaena High School.

"It's really hard when you have a staff and or administration that is focused on traditional things like books consider, for instance, that we need three million gallons of water," Woerner said.

"The rest of the teachers are not going to be real excited about you spending money on water but that's we really need, not books."

While the Konawaena administration has been understanding, the academy could be doing more with added flexibility, Woerner said.

The project-based learning at the core of the academy's teaching methods doesn't mix with the traditional school organization.

"You got bells going off," Woerner said.

"You gotta think in terms 50 minutes or however.

"You've got buses coming at certain time," he added.

Brian Nakashima, a former Konawaena High School principal is now the academy's administrator.

He said one recent example of the school's flexibility was when students traveled to Australia for the solar-car race and missed four weeks of school.

Individual members of the faculty called Nakashima and asked him, "Are you going to let them do this?" he recalled.

"But the learning that took place on the solar-car race and the trip to Australia to me was the kind of activities that we wanted to do."



Location: Hawaii Natural Energy Lab, North Kona
Grades: 10 through 12
Enrollment: Up to 105
Focus: Marine science
Previously: School within a school at Konawaena High School
Start date: Today


Buddy system makes
school a nicer place


By Crystal Kua

Thirteen-year-old Asa Aue got all A's and one B on his report card, was voted most likely to succeed and was the geography bee winner -- all during his first year at intermediate school.

"I was so happy," his proud mother, Cheryl, said. "He had a good foundation with Connections."

From the fourth to sixth grades, Asa attended Connections, which was formed by a group of teachers to bring a small school environment to Mountain View Elementary in Puna. Mountain View had an enrollment nearing 1,000 students.

"We couldn't make another school around the area but we could make a smaller, more intimate program," Connections teacher John Thatcher said.

The name "Connections" came from two ideas: students connecting what they learn to their community and research showing people learn by making connections, Thatcher said.

Parents like the idea that students perform at higher levels because they're more confident in a smaller group.

"The advantage was that the kids got to know each other and, as parents, we got to know each other," parent Ting Ortiz said.

Her daughter, Katrina, who'll be a Connections fifth-grader said the program's buddy system, where a younger student is paired with an older student for reading, makes school a nicer place to be.

"It's like the sixth-graders, they won't bully you. They get to know you. If somebody else bullies you, they'll go up for you."

Connections was nearly scrubbed two years ago because of a decision by Mountain View's principal. Now supporters are taking the charter route to be in control of their destiny.

"We wanted to remain a school within a school, but we were finding it very difficult," said Don Hughes, president of Connections school board. "Now, it's a whole new way of doing business."



Location: Mountain View, Big Island
Grades: Kindergarten through 6
Enrollment: 176
Focus: Small schools
Previously: School within a school at Mountain View Elementary
Start date: Sept. 23



2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin