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Charter school heads fired

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The governing board of a public charter school in Waianae has fired its top two administrators as part of a dramatic transformation bid to turn around the low-performing school.

Kamaile Academy Chief Executive Officer Glen Kila and Principal Clarence De Lude were dismissed last week by the board but are staying on during a transition period.

Parents and faculty are raising concerns about the changes, saying Kila and De Lude have made progress at the campus – the state’s second-largest public charter school – in the face of big obstacles.

They also contend replacing the administrators would stunt the school’s growth, not boost it.

"We’re going to fight for them," said Kamaile parent Vernon Keliikipi, who is circulating a petition to keep the principal and CEO on. "I, along with probably every other parent in this school, agree they do a good job."

But the school’s board says the departures will allow Kamaile, which has 928 students in kindergarten through ninth grade, to qualify for millions of dollars in federal school improvement and Race to the Top grants, and will set the campus on a course for big improvements in student performance.

"This decision was really about marshaling resources," said Pauline Lo Bailey, vice chairwoman of Ho’okako’o Corp., the nonprofit that serves as Kamaile’s local school board. "This was one of the only choices available to us. We’re going to be the first to say that this is one of the most difficult things … to do."

Bailey added that the administrators have laid a strong foundation, and expressed interest in working with Kila in some capacity in the future.

"We are so proud of the community and the gains they’ve made so far against some very difficult challenges," she said. "It really is Mr. Kila’s vision that has allowed this to take place. We just want to build on those improvements."

Ho’okako’o members have said while they search for a permanent CEO and principal, existing Kamaile staff will step in to lead the school.

William Souza, chairman of Kamaile’s local advisory board, which makes recommendations to Ho’okako’o, is against the decision to fire Kila and De Lude. Souza said many in the community support the two, who are credited with boosting community pride in Kamaile and expanding programs for students.

"We have faith in these two gentlemen," he said. "I don’t know why they’re changing horses midstream."

Souza also said the administrators have seen student improvement at Kamaile, where 90 percent of students are from low-income families and many are homeless.

But Ho’okako’o board members say they had to act quickly to take advantage of the new funding

opportunities, including

$3.5 million in federal school improvement grants, and also point out that Kamaile remains among the lowest-performing public schools in Hawaii.

The campus is in "restructuring" – facing the most severe sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law.

In the 2009-10 school year, 40 percent of Kamaile students in third through eighth and 10th grade tested proficient in reading, and

25 percent tested proficient in math.

That is up from 36 percent proficient in reading and 24 percent proficient in math in 2007-08.

To meet adequate yearly progress under NCLB last school year, 58 percent of students must have been proficient in reading and 46 percent proficient in math.

Under U.S. Department of Education rules, schools have four options to be eligible for federal School Improvement Grant dollars: replace the principal and half of its staff; replace its administrators; convert to a charter school (not an option here); or close the school and enroll the students in a higher-performing school.

In a letter to parents and staff, Ho’okako’o said the board has been discussing the improvement grant with Kamaile’s leaders for a year.

"At that time, Kamaile principals were reluctant to pursue SIG funding for the school because the transformation model requires a change in school leadership," the board said. "This has been a very difficult decision to make, but we feel very strongly as a board that we cannot walk away from the opportunity to increase funding for Kamaile’s vision so significantly."

Ho’okako’o Chairman Keith Vieira also said in a separate letter to staff that Kila and De Lude have "laid a solid foundation."

"However … Kamaile Academy remains one of the 5 percent lowest-achieving schools in Hawaii," he wrote. "So the journey must continue with an infusion of new ideas and innovations and the financial resources, services and leadership to support them."

Also as part of a transformation plan, Ho’okako’o said the school will be studying whether its expansion plans are feasible. The school added a ninth grade last year, and had proposed to add one more high school grade each school year.

 

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