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Panel grills school’s board

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    Myron B. Thompson Academy will undergo accreditation review by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges at the end of this month.
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Pressed by a state panel that could sanction their school, Myron B. Thompson Academy officials said yesterday they are investigating whether Principal Diana Oshiro’s relatives were hired fairly and are doing their jobs at the charter school.

"We’re not done yet," Myron K. Thompson, co-chairman of Thompson’s school board, told the Charter School Review Panel. "This takes work. We’ll get to the bottom of all of this, for sure."

He and co-chairwoman Malia Chow answered questions about staffing decisions at the online school, which has four of the principal’s relatives on staff.

The panel has begun the process of putting the campus on probation due to concerns about its governance and operations. It set a deadline of March 7 for the school to submit a written report detailing how it is addressing the situation.

Panel members focused on how the principal’s sister, Kurumi Kaapana-Aki, juggles her full-time job as a flight attendant while serving as a vice principal and whether Kaapana-Aki’s son, Andrew Aki, deserves to be on the payroll as athletic director even though the school has had no sports teams for two years.

"Two years is a long time to have somebody in a position that is not meeting that job description," panel member Carl Takamura observed. "Have you evaluated what he does in light of what his salary should be? You hired him initially to run an athletic program that was in existence. That doesn’t apply anymore."

Thompson responded, "We definitely should do that. Your point is well taken."

As a public charter school, Thompson Academy is funded by the taxpayers but reports to its own local school board rather than the state Board of Education. Chow said Kaapana-Aki had assured the board that her flight schedule does not conflict with her work as a vice principal. Panel Chairwoman Ruth Tschumy asked the school board to verify that.

"For me that is a problem, if she’s flying on weekdays and earning a salary from Hawaiian Airlines on the very same day she is receiving a state paycheck," Tschumy said. "I would like to see you request her actual work schedule for the last three months, what days she flew, what flights."

Thompson replied, "I appreciate that. I will do that."

Derrick Lord, the information technology director at Thompson and a member of its board, told the panel "the majority of her flights are centered on weekends."

Asked by panel member Pualani Akaka why the board did not put any staff members on a leave of absence during its investigation, Chow said they decided against it, in part because the school is undergoing accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges at the end of this month.

"The principal insisted that she be the one put on probation, that ultimately the buck stops with her," Chow said. "We discussed our options, and we came to the conclusion that we wanted to get through accreditation with our full team intact."

Oshiro has been the principal of Thompson Academy since 2001. Board members said she was not in charge of hiring when her sister joined the staff in 2003 as a teacher.

Kaapana-Aki’s son, Andrew, started as a volunteer and was hired in 2003 to oversee the school’s sports teams. His brother Zuri Aki worked as an assistant in records management before becoming film teacher. A third brother is a clerk.

Thompson said the board is seeking advice from renowned educators to make sure it follows the highest professional standards. It has written a recruitment and selection policy that it asked the Attorney General’s office to review.

"We are a charter school, and it’s evolving over time and it’s getting more aligned with what it needs to do," Thompson said. "I’m not trying to make any excuses. At the time when those things were developed, it’s like any other school starting up, it’s an ohana system, you find guys who can do it. We are totally here to clean up any wrongs, if you will, from the past and fix it."

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