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Charter enrollment up 5%

By Mary Vorsino

LAST UPDATED: 1:31 a.m. HST, Oct 22, 2010

The number of students attending public charter schools statewide continued to grow this year, even though no new campuses opened, while enrollment at regular public schools was largely unchanged.

Still, charter school students remain a small portion -- about 5 percent -- of all Hawaii public school students.

Charter school enrollment has been on the rise for years but was largely linked to new campuses opening.

This year, officials say the enrollment increase -- with no new schools opening -- shows more parents are learning about charter schools and appreciate what they have to offer.

"When they evaluate the educational opportunities at charter schools, they like what they see," said Bob Roberts, chief financial officer at the Charter School Administrative Office. "Parents like the fact that they have the ability to make a choice."

Statewide, 169,987 students are enrolled at the 257 regular public schools, down 0.5 percent from the 2009-10 school year, according to state Department of Education figures released this week.

The data showed the state's 31 charter schools enrolled 8,202 students this year -- a 5 percent increase from the 2009-10 school year. Officials cautioned that the figures were gathered in mid-August, before some charter schools complete enrollment.

In the data, for example, enrollment for Hawaii Technology Academy is listed as 372 students, while the campus actually has 1,007 in kindergarten through 12th grade. The school's population nearly doubled from last year, when it was 511.

It is unclear whether the charter school data include any other large enrollment differences.

According to the figures, at least seven charter schools saw enrollment drop this school year.

Hawaii Tech Academy took the title as the state's largest charter school when it added 12th grade and saw enrollment increases in other grade levels.

The school offers online classes and physical learning centers in Waipahu and in Princeville, Kauai, where students attend classes at least once a week.

"Our classes are designed for 21st-century learners," said Dave Randall, academy principal. "Kids can learn at their own pace. The curriculum is aligned with the standards, and it's very rigorous."

Randall said the school had 1,800 applicants for this school year and had to turn 800 away.

"It speaks to how people are viewing charter schools in general as an alternative form of education," he said.

Kihei Charter School also saw enrollment jump this year -- by about 14 percent, to 529 students.

The increase of 65 students was in part spurred by adding 40 more students to the charter's high school, said Mark Christiano, executive director.

"We have a track record of success," he said. "Every year we've been expanding."

The school opened seven years ago with 120 students.

Charter schools are publicly funded but are not under the Department of Education. Instead, their charters are overseen by local school boards whose authority can be revoked by the Charter School Review Panel.

The Board of Education sets policy for both Department of Education and charter schools.

In addition to showing charter school growth, the new enrollment figures show:

» The Leeward District continues to be the largest of Oahu's four school districts, with 38,739 students (not counting charter schools), followed by Central Oahu (32,498), Honolulu (30,968) and Windward (14,747).

» The Big Island is the largest neighbor island district, with 23,325 students. Maui County has 20,430 and Kauai has 9,207.

» The largest high school on Oahu is Campbell, with 2,639 students, followed by Farrington, with 2,521.

» Among middle schools, Mililani is the largest, with 1,748 students in sixth through eighth grades, followed by Kapolei Middle (1,424 students).

» Supersize elementary schools include Holomua in Ewa Beach (enrollment: 1,382); August Ahrens in Waipahu, with 1,322 students; and Mililani Ike, with 1,045 students.

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