Maunaloa Brings the Love
Community Shows Strength Over Threatened School
By Sean Aronson
Children and adults alike brought passion and conviction to a community discussion over the future of education on Molokai. While there was no official agenda, the issue at the top of everyone’s list was the prospect of Maunaloa Elementary School closing.
The Maunaloa community has coalesced over the issue, not wanting to endure another blow to their already hard hit community. Recent activism has included sign holding throughout town, and petition-signing at local businesses. The actions were prompted by the news that Maunaloa Elementary School will be considered for a consolidation effort if it’s determined that the school meets the criteria set forth by the State guidelines.
The gathering last week brought parents, teachers and students to the Kaunakakai school cafeteria for the yearly discussion of Molokai’s educational needs. Only one member of the State Board of Education, Herbert Watanabe, was in attendance.
"I’m not here to argue with you, I’m here to have a discussion,” said Watanabe, setting the tone for the evening.
The event was also an opportunity for newly appointed Complex Area Superintendent Lindsay Ball to introduce himself to the community. The Area Superintendent is in charge of determining what the school facility’s needs are for the community. To that end, Ball will create a task force to address the possible Maunaloa consolidation. Ball will head the group in conjunction with elementary school Principal Joe Yamamoto. In addition to Ball and Yamamoto, community members will also be selected, at least half of whom must not be affiliated with any of the schools involved in the process.
Ball said Maunaloa meets two of the three conditions that necessitate forming a task force – one third or more of the school facilities require major improvements, and enrollment is small enough that another school could accommodate the Maunaloa students. Ball said the sewage system is a major concern and would cost the state a lot to fix.
Both Ball and Watanabe repeatedly stressed that no decision has been made on Maunaloa and these steps (creating the task fore) were preliminary and do no set anything in stone.
But many members in attendance were not satisfied. Dartagnon Bicoy was the first to voice his opinion. Bicoy, who has grandchildren at Maunaloa, questioned why Maunaloa’s academic achievement does not matter in the decision making process. The school is one of only a handful in the county to have met all its marks on the Adequate Yearly Progress standards set by the No Child Left Behind program. Bicoy thought it did not seem just that academic achievement was not a factor in looking at school consolidation.
Others said it was the lack of control over the process that was most frustrating.
Community members also debated over whether it was the fact that Maunaloa was small that led to the academic improvements. “Do small schools produce better results?” they asked. Complex superintendent Ball said he would look into this issue and will report back to the community about his findings.
The evening concluded with a group of students from Maunaloa who stood in front of those gathered and read passionate testimonials as to why they don’t want their school to close. Watanabe and Ball listened intently as the keiki talked about the love they had for their teachers and how sad they would be if they had to go to another school. Watanabe took each letter and said he would distribute copies to all of the members of the Board of Education.
“These things make a real difference because they come from the heart,” said Watanabe.
Parents at other schools are also concerned about the prospect of Maunaloa closing because they don’t want their kids’ schools to become more crowded. Mariya Poaha worried that Kaunakakai Elementary, where Maunaloa students would likely go, would have a harder time meeting the needs of the increased enrollment.
More community hearings are expected as this process continues. Many at the gathering stressed the importance of showing continued strength and passion.
“We can’t let up now, no matter how long this takes,” said Bicoy.