Thursday, November 26, 2015         

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Public slams school closure

Parents decry a state proposal to shut a Hawaii Kai elementary

By Mary Vorsino


Carrying signs that read "Save our School," more than 400 angry parents and community members came out last night to oppose proposals that would close one of two high-performing Hawaii Kai elementary schools, saying both campuses give students a high-quality learning environment and that closing either of them would go against efforts to improve Hawaii's public education.

School Closure Hearing

» When: Today, 5:30 p.m.
» Where: Kalakaua Middle School cafeteria
» Schools being considered for closure: Kalihi and Puuhale elementary schools
» For more information: Go to and click on "consolidation studies" or call the DOE's Honolulu district office at 733-4952.
The state is considering closing Kamiloiki or Koko Head, which have 642 students between them.

Parents and educators said student performance would drop -- and other schools in the area would suffer -- if either of the campuses is shuttered. Others expressed disappointment, anger and disbelief that the Department of Education would even consider closing schools where students are doing well -- and that Koko Head is fighting for its future in the same year that it was named one of Hawaii's Blue Ribbon schools for achieving test scores in the top 10 percent for the state.

"At some point, we need to ask ourselves are we being penny-wise and pound foolish?" Kaiser High Principal John Sosa asked at the public hearing last night in the Kaiser cafeteria. He pointed out that schools in the complex are working together to offer new, rigorous programs and are increasingly drawing students from other districts -- and from private schools.

"By closing to save money, are we creating a situation that we are not able to offer the type of public school that our students and community deserve?"

Justin Mew, principal of Niu Valley Middle School, also spoke out against the proposed consolidations, saying the schools should be given three to four years to try to increase enrollment.

"I think this ... is a wake-up call for our complex to really deliver the best education," he said.

Kamiloiki and Koko Head feed into Niu Valley and Kaiser.

Shawn Lorenzo, who has two sons in Koko Head Elementary, said students will suffer if either campus is closed. Katie Buck, who has a son at Koko Head, agreed. She drew applause last night when she told the department, "Stand behind these students and ... keep these schools open."

A Department of Education consolidation study said that every elementary school in the Kaiser complex -- except Aina Haina -- is under capacity. Kamiloiki Elementary has 369 students -- about 252 students under capacity -- while Koko Head is at about half of its capacity, with 273 students.

Closing Kamiloiki or Koko Head would save from $561,000 to $678,000 a year, the DOE estimates.

The Department of Education has said that if either Kamiloiki or Koko Head were closed, students would be shifted to the campus that remains open and possibly to Hahaione Elementary.

Kamiloiki and Koko Head are among five elementary schools being considered for closure statewide. The Board of Education is expected to take up the closure proposals next month.

Last night, state Rep. Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen's Gate-Hawaii Kai) urged the Department of Education to drop the issue of consolidation until an appointed Board of Education is brought in. (Voters in November supported the move from an elected to an appointed board).

"Fast-tracking school closure by a lame-duck Board of Education is unnecessary," Ward said. "Instead of being closed, we should be cloning our Hawaii Kai schools."

Last school year, 94 percent of students at Koko Head tested proficient in reading, while 83 percent were proficient in math. By comparison, 68 percent of Hawaii public school students overall were on target in reading and 49 percent met benchmarks in math on the annual state test.

The public hearing was the second of three this week on proposed consolidations in East and urban Honolulu. Testimony given at the hearing yesterday will be presented to the Board of Education along with a recommendation from the DOE superintendent.

So far, only two schools have closed: Wailupe Valley Elementary School in East Honolulu, which had 75 students, and the one-room schoolhouse on Maui.

At the hearing last night, several parents raised concerns about what would happen to empty campuses if schools close, and pointed to Wailupe Valley.

The campus closed in June 2009 and was handed back to the city. Six months later, vandals targeted the property, spraying graffiti on doors and walls. On the campus yesterday, a lone city Parks Department worker was in the administration office, which was empty but for her desk.

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