Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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3 schools face closure

Liliuokalani, Puuhale and Kalihi could be shuttered

By Mary Vorsino


State schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi is recommending the Board of Education close three small elementary schools in May, a move that would save as much as $2 million a year but draw a wave of opposition from parents, teachers and community members.

Being eyed for closure are Queen Liliuokalani Elementary in Kaimuki — where enrollment stood at 98 yesterday — and two Kalihi elementary schools, Kalihi and Puuhale.

Matayoshi's proposal is the latest step in the department's review of small schools in a push to be more efficient and save money.

So far the state has closed two schools but spared six others on the possible closure list.

As word of Matayoshi's most recent recommendations spread yesterday, parents reacted with disappointment, bewilderment and anger.

"Where am I going to send my child?" said Jennifer Gomes, whose daughter attends kindergarten at Liliuokalani. She added that she chose Liliuokalani because of its small classes — ranging in size from six to 22 students — and tight-knit environment. "Everyone knows everyone here. What's going to happen?" she said.

Lyle Bullock, who has a first-grader at Liliuokalani, took issue with how the department went about studying whether the school should close. He said the decision appeared to have been made months ago.

"This is the department thinking they can do what they want to do," he said.


The Board of Education administrative services committee will hold a public hearing on the school closure recommendation Monday at 3 p.m. at the Queen Liliuokalani Building, 1390 Miller St., Room 404.


Others, though, said they understood why the Department of Education was looking at consolidation during tough fiscal times.

"We just hope for whatever's best for the students," said Jonathan Sypert, the father of two daughters, in first and fourth grade, who attend Liliuokalani.

Under the plan, subject to approval by the full board, Liliuokalani students would be transferred to Liholiho and Waialae elementary schools.

Meanwhile, Puuhale Elementary's 234 students would be sent to Kalihi Kai Elementary, creating a campus with 833 students — one of the largest elementary schools in the state.

Kalihi Elementary's 294 students would be split between Kalihi Uka and Kaewai elementary schools, according to a consolidation proposal study. Their enrollments would jump to 401 and 490, respectively.

At public hearings in December, the department heard from hundreds of parents from both communities. Just about everyone who testified was against closing the schools.

Randy Moore, DOE assistant superintendent of the office of school facilities and support services, said he wouldn't expect anything different with the latest proposal, but added that the superintendent has to take factors other than community sentiment into consideration.

"Parents always think their children's school is the best," he said. "Everybody loves their own school."

He added that though school closures are no doubt jarring for families, there is no evidence to suggest consolidating the schools would affect student performance.

Closing Liliuokalani and the Kalihi schools would bump up the number of campuses that have closed as part of a cost-saving push to five.

But one of those was a one-room schoolhouse on Maui that was not being used by students. The other, Wailupe Valley Elementary in Kuliouou, had 78 students.

Schools spared so far after consolidation studies include Haleiwa and Kaaawa elementary schools on the North Shore, Maunaloa Elementary on Molokai and Kohala Middle on the Big Island, all of which the DOE recommended not to close. The board voted later against closing the campuses.

Also, two small campuses eyed for consolidation in Hawaii Kai — Kamiloiki and Koko Head elementary — got good news when the department announced it would look at moving some school boundary lines to shift students to the high-performing schools.

The decision of whether to close Liliuokalani and the two Kalihi schools falls on the Board of Education, which will take up the superintendent's recommendations in a committee meeting Monday before bringing them to the full board.

Board Chairman Garrett Toguchi said community members will be given ample opportunity to testify before the BOE, and added that he is going into the discussion with an "open mind."

"We're cognizant of the economic issue, but we are also aware of the fact that smaller is better," he said. At the same time, Toguchi added, the board needs to make a decision that is "fair for all schools."

Two of the schools being eyed for closure — Liliuokalani and Puuhale — met adequate yearly progress goals for proficiency in math and reading last school year. Kalihi Elementary did not, with 48 percent of its students testing proficient in reading and 42 percent proficient in math.

(That compares with 62 percent and 43 percent, respectively, at Puuhale).

Meanwhile, about 8 in 10 students at both Kalihi schools are low-income.

At a December public hearing in Kalihi on the consolidation proposals, more than 300 parents, teachers and community members spoke out against closing the schools, saying that shuttering them would overwhelm struggling nearby campuses and force students to cross more busy roadways.

State Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, whose district includes Kalihi, said yesterday she is "disappointed" by the superintendent's recommendations.

"I think the testimony at the public meetings was quite compelling" against consolidation, she said.

Devin Donahue, a Kalihi Valley Neighborhood Board member, said it's hard to know how closing the schools will affect families.

"How bad is it going to be?" he said. "You don't really know the outcome until you shut it down."

In Kaimuki, parents say Liliuokalani offers students a safe, supportive environment. And they have said the department should give them more time to attract more students or get a chance to "reinvent" the campus, perhaps as a magnet school specializing in the arts or other areas.

Some 62 percent of Liliuokalani students tested proficient in reading, and half were proficient in math.

Those scores are not as high as those at the schools where Liliuokalani students would be transferred if the school is closed.

Some 84 percent of students at Liholiho Elementary were proficient in reading, and 79 percent tested proficient in math. Meanwhile, 76 percent of students at Waialae were proficient in reading, and 53 percent were proficient in math.

Gomes, the Liliuokalani parent, said talk of closing the school couldn't come at a worse time.

Parents were making plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the campus, dedicated in 1912 by the deposed queen herself.

"This is the queen's school," she said after picking up her daughter at the campus yesterday. "This is a part of Kaimuki history."


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