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Back to Class

Principals look ahead to new school year.

Students crowded Molokai’s classrooms last week, excited to see their peers, hit the books and meet their teachers. While Molokai Middle School welcomes new principal Gary Davidson, other principals island-wide look forward to an engaging school year.

“We look at our school as family, first and foremost,” said Kaunakakai School Principal Janice Espiritu. “And we treat all our students as if they’re our very own.”

Molokai High School (MHS)
Students at MHS were greeted to building improvements and renovations when they showed up for class last week, including newly planted grass on the front lawn and walls inside cleaned of graffiti, scratches and peeling paint.

“Hopefully the students feel we have improved the front of the campus and that will permeate throughout the rest of the school,” said Principal Stanford Hao, who started his second year in the position.

Hao said there has been “a drastic drop in enrollment” over the past several years, when the student population topped 500 pupils. Enrollment has held steady from last year, hovering in the 300s.

“One thing we know for sure is that people have shared that [a lack of] jobs have impacted their ability to stay on island,” causing the school’s slow slide in numbers, he said.

MHS eliminated a full-time counselor and created a half-time test coordinator to prepare for this year’s Hawaii State Assessment (HSA). Hao also plans to capitalize on the state’s alliance with EdisonLearning, an education management organization, to improve students’ HSA and annual yearly progress (AYP) scores, which are used to track schools’ progress.

Maunaloa Elementary School
Principal Joe Yamamoto said he also looks forward to working with Edison staff “to continue to improve our teaching and learning outcomes.”

Although the state’s official enrollment count date is Aug. 12, he said last week the school welcomed about 70 students, roughly the same as last year. He does not expect to make any cuts to personnel or programs.

“It has been a very typical school beginning,” he said. “Students were anxious the first week back. Class and school expectations and routines are being set.”

Kaunakakai Elementary School
Principal Janice Espiritu said students at Kaunakakai have been enthusiastic about wearing school uniforms, which the administration instituted for the first time this year. Students can choose between two colors of T-shirts – green or off-white – to wear to school Monday through Thursday, and dress in non-uniform street clothes for Aloha Friday.

Every student received one free T-shirt, and parents paid $35 for five additional shirts. Espiritu said she got the idea from a student who asked, “why can’t we have uniforms?” The School Community Council (SCC) unanimously approved the measure, which was favored by about 85 percent of parents. Families may opt out with a waiver.

“It’s very cost-effective; I’m hearing that from the parents,” she said. “They love it because they don’t have to argue with their children about what to wear, and it instills school pride and a sense of cohesiveness.”

Espiritu said 247 students were enrolled at the school as of last week, down one student from last year. Based on the state’s weighted student formula, in which schools receive funding based on their growing enrollment, she hopes 249 students – the number projected for this year – are enrolled by Aug. 12 so that the budget is not affected. Missing the projected enrollment could mean the loss of a position or cut to supplies; however, Espiritu said such a small discrepancy might not force such a change.

Kualapu`u School
About 400 students are enrolled at Kualapu`u, a slight increase from last year, said Principal Lydia Trinidad. The budget was unaffected this year, allowing her to maintain programs, teachers and educational assistants (EAs), she said.

Her focus will be on continuing and improving the extended day program instituted last year, in which students start 15 minutes earlier than other Molokai schools and finish 45 minutes later.

“Preliminary data says yes, it was successful,” she said. “It definitely was [a way] for us not only to enrich our academic program but to enrich some of the other programs,” like physical education, visual performing arts, computer labs and more.

Kilohana Elementary School
Budget cuts last year forced Kilohana Principal Richard Stevens to cut two EAs and a counselor beginning this summer. However, a slight decrease in enrollment this year will make the cuts more manageable, he said, with about 10 students enrolled per grade. The school will maintain a teacher at every grade level.

“Even with less personnel, we still feel that we’re really offering an ohana kind of support this year … Frankly it’s a matter of working smarter and working harder,” he said. That includes having teachers and EAs supervise campus recess and lunches, a job previously completed by positions that were cut, he added.

Specific goals at the school include increasing students’ scores on the HSA and starting academic and enrichment after-school programs within the next few weeks.

“We’re off to a good start,” Stevens said. “The kids are happy to be back.”

Aka`ula School and Ho’omana Hou High School staff were unavailable for comment last week.

Parents Invited to Schools Meeting
The SCC welcomes parents of all students to attend a community meeting Sept. 27 at the Kaunakakai Elementary School cafeteria at 5:30 p.m. Representatives from each of the schools will discuss HSA test scores, past progress and future plans. Additionally, the first MHS SCC meeting will be held at the high school library Aug. 24 at 3:15 p.m.

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