Online petitions are seeking to remove or retain Kapaa Middle School Principal Nathan Aiwohi, who was placed on paid leave last month while the Department of Education investigates complaints against him.
The petition calling for Aiwohi’s removal has 300 signatures. Organizers — a group of parents of current and former students at the Kauai school — are critical of what they describe as a "dictatorial, authoritarian leadership style" and blame Aiwohi for high staff turnover, declining enrollment and poor academic achievement at the school. They point to the school’s "restructuring" status for the last five years under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
It also notes the school’s Parent Teacher Student Association disbanded under Aiwohi, who has led the school since 2007. Organizers plan to present the petition to Kauai Complex Area Superintendent Bill Arakaki and Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.
The support petition, organized by Aiwohi’s wife, Leah, disputes the accusations and instead says Aiwohi’s "integrity and leadership" are behind the school’s improving test scores. It has about 330 signatures.
Arakaki declined to comment and referred questions to department spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz.
Dela Cruz said Aiwohi was placed on leave with pay April 17.
"We received complaints made by staff against the principal, so we’re investigating those complaints," she said. "The petition appears to be an external matter. It’s unclear whether it will play a role in the investigation."
Several parents of Kapaa Middle students have described Aiwohi as a bully whose management style has resulted in some parents removing their children from the school and teachers leaving.
"The biggest dissatisfaction has been an overarching environment of expecting the worst out of the kids, an appalling lack of positive messaging and browbeating of the kids," said former PTSA President Jack Yatsko, whose two daughters attended the school.
"I think he’s been a bully at the school," he said. "He has repeatedly subjected the students to workshops and assemblies on behavioral norms. I don’t think he’s a model of that. I do think he possesses skill, but they are ones better served in a more controlled environment than what a principal should be."
Parent Donna Edmonds added, "The school is falling apart under this man. He doesn’t take care of severe problems. He picks on small problems."
Yatsko said repeated attempts by parents and community stakeholders to work with Aiwohi over the years have been unsuccessful. He described the petition and a willingness to speak with media as a "last resort."
"My children aren’t at the school anymore, but this is for the kids and families coming up," he said. "They deserve an atmosphere where they are motivated and encouraged to thrive by a principal who is truly invested in their well-being as our future leaders."
Attempts to reach Aiwohi for comment were unsuccessful.
In signing her support petition, Leah Aiwohi wrote that "Nathan has always been a hard-working educator who genuinely focuses on doing what’s in the best interest of students. I imagine that if his adversaries could challenge themselves to grow and look at where the real weaknesses are and work towards strengthening those areas of need in the school rather than maliciously attacking and tearing down individuals, Kapaa Middle School would certainly become a much better environment for everyone."
The school has made improvements in its adequate yearly progress toward No Child Left Behind targets in reading and math proficiency.
The percentage of students hitting reading targets hovered around 45 percent between school years 2001-02 and 2005-06. It has since steadily climbed to 75 percent in 2011-12 school year, surpassing that year’s benchmark of 72 percent, according to department data.
Math proficiency at the school remains below the national target but has improved from below 20 percent six years ago to 56 percent last school year.
Enrollment at the school has dipped from a high of 729 students in 2006-07 to 626 students this past school year, according to the data.