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Fight is on to save schools

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Dozens of parents, teachers and community members crowded into a Board of Education meeting room yesterday to speak out against closing three small Honolulu schools, some saying that shuttering the campuses would be unfair given a recent decision to spare two Hawaii Kai schools.

Being eyed for closure are Queen Liliuokalani Elementary in Kaimuki and two Kalihi elementary schools, Kalihi and Puuhale. State schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi has recommended all three schools be closed, a move that would save as much as $2 million a year.

Kalihi Elementary parent Lori Daquip told the committee that the decision on whether to close schools should not be just about money, but about whether students are making progress.

"My daughter really loves the school," Daquip said. "She asked me to save our school."

Deborah Vicari, grandmother of a student at Kalihi Elementary, asked the board members why two schools in Kalihi were in danger when the DOE recently announced two small schools in Hawaii Kai would likely remain open thanks to proposed changes to attendance areas.

"It’s very unfair," she said.


The Board of Education Committee on Administrative Services will meet Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. in Room 404 of the Queen Liliuokalani building, 1390 Miller St., to vote on whether to approve the closure of Liliuokalani, Kalihi and/or Puuhale elementary schools. The issue then goes to the full board for a final decision.


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Others also raised the issue of sparing the Hawaii Kai schools, and said the department was placing a heavier burden on low-income families and setting up Kalihi schools for failure. About 80 percent of students at Kalihi and Puuhale elementary schools are low-income, and more than one-third are English language learners.

Clint Schroeder of the Friends of Puuhale Elementary said the group would pursue legal action if the board votes to close the school.

"I find it reprehensible that the DOE has chosen two schools from the same district for recommended closure," he told board members. "The fact is, this recommendation is discriminatory, and the Kalihi community is being specifically targeted. It is my civic duty to prove that this decision is filled with socioeconomic bias and is being rushed without consideration because the spirit of this neighborhood is generally not to fight back."

Meanwhile, parents of Liliuokalani Elementary students said the school provides a safe, nurturing setting for children that the department should be encouraging and fostering.

"Small schools like QLS are a sound investment," said Bryan Kang, parent of two students at the school, adding the school should be given more time to come up with a plan to boost enrollment at the campus.

The BOE Committee on Administrative Services did not take any action on the proposed consolidations, instead deciding to reconvene Feb. 24 for a vote.

The matter will then go to the full board.

The committee hearing 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, including the two high-performing schools in Hawaii Kai.

Under DOE proposals before the board, Liliuokalani would close and its 98 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. Their enrollments would jump to 401 and 490, respectively.

The DOE has noted that the "optimal enrollment" for an elementary school is 300 to 400 students.

The closure of Puuhale would increase enrollment at Kalihi Kai "considerably above the optimal range," a consolidation study noted.

However, the same study said the teacher-student ratio would not increase dramatically at schools bringing in new students because more teachers would be hired.

"Far more significant that the size of the school is the leadership of the principal, the effectiveness of the teachers, a campus culture of high expectations and parents who believe education is important," the DOE consolidation study said. "The data do not indicate that students in the Farrington complex do better if they are in small schools."

Also in a consolidation study, the DOE said it could use the vacant Kalihi campuses for much-needed office space.

Liliuokalani, too, could be used for offices, the DOE has said.


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