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Flexibility key to schools growth


One aspect of West Oahu’s growing pains is playing out at Campbell High School. That campus was designed for 1,000 fewer students than it’s likely to have in a few years, and the state Department of Education needs to comes up with a plan for the near term. Even though the school administration and faculty have adapted admirably to the expansion and their work has yielded improving student performance, campuses are not infinitely elastic. Other options must be found.

Many of the school’s 2,639 students come from all the homes that sprouted along Fort Weaver Road in recent years, but in 2008 there was a crash of the world financial system. And the recession and credit crisis that followed put a lot of the development pegged for neighboring Kapolei on hold.

The upshot is that there’s neither the critical mass or the tax base to build a new high school, and there probably won’t be for the forseeable future. So what the school needs is a coping strategy, and chances are it will take a mosaic of different ideas.

The state Senate, with the backing of the DOE, wants to include a $16.4 million item that will improve conditions at more than one campus in Ewa. The money would finance the construction of a sixth-grade wing at Ewa Makai Middle School that was postponed when that campus was first developed but ultimately will be needed as the region resumes its pace of population growth.

The sixth-grade classes at three elementary schools — Keoneula, Ewa Beach and Ewa — would move to the new sixth-grade wing at Ewa Makai Middle School if it is built. Holomua, Pohakea and Kaimiloa elementary schools would send their sixth-graders to Ilima, which currently only accommodates seventh and eighth grades but then would become a middle school.

This seems enough justification to press for including the $16.4 million, which is absent from the House version of the budget bill, in the final capital improvement budget. Whether the extra classroom space could be used for Campbell needs further discussion to ensure that the elementary schools can operate well without it — and with the older students in close proximity.

Among the other possibilities being floated is a reallocation of some of the portables now on the Ilima Intermediate School campus to Campbell use and whether Kapolei and Waipahu high schools could take a limited number of Campbell students through a district exception.

State Sen. Will Espero, who represents the area, is advocating other innovations that seem promising. He believes that some Campbell students could largely leave campus by participating in an online-learning pilot project, forming a kind of e-school "academy."

In Waipahu, there’s the Hawaii Technology Academy, a K-12 charter school that’s having success with its own distance-learning program. Some of that experience could provide a model for Campbell.

Finally, Espero added, as the University of Hawaii at West Oahu develops, a laboratory school on that campus could both help train the new teachers and accommodate some of the region’s excess enrollment, while plans to build new public schools continue to progress. Both of these ideas are worth further discussion.

The population boom in West Oahu was bound to produce strains, particularly as economic disruptions cause the area to grow in fits and starts. The DOE needs to be nimble in how it proceeds, and plans that are adaptable rather than rigid deserve support.

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