Guest Speaker Discusses Benefits of Conversion Schools

Mainland principal provides hope for Kualapu`u Elementary School.

Creating a brighter future for public schools: Lynn Fallin of the Ho`okako`o Corporation, Vaughn Next Century Learning Center Principal Yvonne Chan, and Kualapu`u Elementary School Principal Lydia Trinidad.


By Jennifer Smith

Supporters of Kualapu`u Elementary received an encouraging message from the principal of the first conversion charter school in Los Angeles. Vaughn Next Century Learning Center Principal, Yvonne Chan spoke during a dinner last week Monday about the possibilities that conversion charter schools offer.

“We left the dock three years ago when we became a conversion school,” Kualapu`u Elementary School Principal Lydia Trinidad said. “It has been a struggle, but it has gotten better.”

Trinidad invited Chan to speak to the Kualapu`u community about the successes and challenges of her experience in developing the first conversion charter school 15 years ago.

“I am here to give hope,” the petite and enthusiastic Chan said. “Under charter law you really can implement the programs you think your kids need.”

“In exchange for increased flexibility, charter schools are held accountable for improving student academic achievement,” according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site. “The objective is to replace rules-based governance with performance-based accountability.”

As a conversion charter school, Chan was able to transform the under-performing, high-poverty Vaughn Elementary School into a full-service facility. The revamped Vaughn Next Century Learning Center now features a family center and business co-op, a school based clinic, enhanced after school programs and an affordable clothing boutique.

By allocating money to more comprehensive programs for the community, Chan saw an increase in academic achievement.

“As a conversion charter no more excuses, you are self-governed, have autonomy, make it happen,” Chan said.

After hearing Chan’s story of success, Kualapu`u Elementary School Principal Trinidad asked Chan if she would mentor her as she strives to bring similar success to the Molokai-based conversion school.

“I believe that (Kualapu`u Elementary School) does have the collective confidence in making the change,” Chan said. However to get there she said the school and community need to stay resilient, focused and not let barriers get in the way. “What you can bring to this school everyday, every second is hope.”

Since its conversion, Kualapu`u Elementary School has hired a full-time physical education teacher and technology specialist. The school has also contracted a full-time art teacher, began a farming program and expanded its Hawaiian Immersion program.

“Thank you for staying on and being with us,” Trinidad said, as she asked for the community’s continued support of Kualapu`u Elementary School.

Future plans for the school include starting an early education pre-school, implementing more Hawaiian Immersion programs and providing more space for tutors and teacher offices.

Mahalo to Lynn Fallin, of the Ho`okako`o Corporation, to Kamehameha Schools, to parent facilitator Tara Horner, and to the event’s chefs for providing a Chinese dinner that Chan referred to as “better than China.”


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