Molokai High School’s Future Focus
By Jack Kiyonaga, Community Reporter
After several years of flux, Molokai High School readies itself for the future.
Recent years have seen dramatic shifts in instructional time, scheduling and educational goals at Molokai High School. These changes, amplified by the pandemic, have been areas of both contention and excitement.
One of these changes is the implantation of a new Academy Model for the high school.
The Academy Model is a new format for MHS whereby students will choose one of three academies to shape their classes.
According to the National Career Academy Coalition, these academies help students become “college and career ready” by offering “real world authentic experience” and “strengthening what [students] learn in the classroom with what [they] may do after graduation.”
Right now, students can choose from three academy models: Innovation, Business and Technology (IBT), Community Service and Sustainability (CS&S), and O Hina I Ka Malama Natural Resources.
Each academy shares certain core classes, like English I, II, III and IV, but differ in terms of science, social studies and elective emphasis. Every academy is vertically aligned with different post-secondary opportunities including careers and college courses. Students will graduate from academies with professional certificates, work force opportunities and secondary course options. Students can change their academy once a year.
MHS administration is “still figuring out what [academies] are and what they look like for Molokai High School,” according to MHS Principal Katina Soares.
However, focusing on career pathways and college opportunities allows for MHS to “channel resources and funding” towards areas that will make the most difference for students, explained Soares.
“The reality is Molokai High has lagged behind the state on traditional measures such as proficiency in English Language Arts and Math for at least the last 20 years…We need to do something different and we need to make changes that will have meaningful impacts for our kids here on Molokai,” she said.
With these changes to educational plans have likewise come revisions to the MHS school schedule.
Some parents of MHS students have voiced concerns regarding the current schedule and school-to-parent communication regarding it.
The high school day now begins at 9:20 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. Parents have expressed frustration with this schedule, especially because it falls below the Hawaii Department of Education’s instruction time requirements of 1800 minutes per week, or six hours per day.
Likewise, parents have reported problems with the new start time. With high school starting later, parents have had to leave students at home by themselves before school.
“Parents feel this year should have been an opportunity to help students make up for the lost time and lost learning opportunities that they were denied due to the unexpected pandemic. Why isn’t the MHS leadership taking this opportunity to help our keiki catch up?” asked MHS parent representative to the school community council Jennifer Ainoa in a letter to Molokai Complex Superintendent Rebecca Winkie.
For Soares, a MHS graduate and MHS parent herself, the scheduling changes were necessary for this year.
“Our current bell schedule is designed to allow our school to take the extra time needed to purposefully prepare and plan changes to the structure, services and supports that we provide to better meet the needs of our Molokai High students,” said Soares.
According to Soares, not only was the shortened schedule “good for COVID because it gave us a little more flexibility,” but was essential for the implementation of the Academy Model at MHS. The current schedule allowed “for school improvement planning meetings” as well as “meeting as a whole staff,” critical for coordinating this academy structure.
Additionally, Soares explained there are “no specific number of minutes that kids need to be in school to be successful.”
Rather than focusing on quantity of instruction time, MHS is “working on improving the quality of instruction and the quality of programming available to our kids,” according to Soares.
Because the school’s instructional minutes are below DOE requirements, the school applied for and obtained a waiver last spring. Ainoa and some other parents have also taken issues with the process by which MHS obtained such a waiver.
MHS was “lacking transparency and clarity regarding their intentions for this abbreviated instructional day” said Ainoa.
While MHS administration asserts that the waiver process was public and in compliance with DOE policy, certain parents still feel that they were out of the loop.
In response, concerned parents have submitted a petition to Hawaii Public Schools Superintended Keith Hayashi “demanding reinstatement of the DOE required instructional minutes for students beginning the first day of the second semester of this school year.”
The petition alleges that parents were not given a fair voice in last year’s survey about the school day length.
“Parents accessed the survey through email, while students completed the survey at school, thereby grossly skewing the student voice to outweigh that of parents and the community,” explains the petition.
It remains unclear as to why accessing the survey by email would lead to less parent participation.
This survey, sent to Hayashi as of Nov. 15, has received the signatures of 105 parents and community stakeholders.
In response, Soares highlighted the school’s efforts to include parents in decision making processes and meetings.
“We make every effort to inform the public and community on the functions of the [School Community Council], invite them to a meeting early in the school year and provide them with contact information,” said Soares.
Soares and Winkie emphasized that “additionally, when major decisions are made, we provide opportunities for input through surveys and meeting invitations through various means including School Messenger – calls, emails, texts, our school social media and website.”
“Parents are always invited,” said Soares.
While the scheduling changes were needed for this year, MHS has decided to move back to the old schedule as of Fall 2023.
“It was a really difficult decision,” said Soares, but “we plan to return to full instructional minutes in Fall of 2023, rather than changing mid-year, which would not only disrupt students’ credits, learning and stability, but go against what we conscientiously decided would be best for this school year.”
While the schedule will change, the educational focus will remain on the implementation of the new Academy Model.
And while many changes are underway, MHS administration remain resolute in their dedication to students.
“Our students deserve the best and there is a sense of urgency in making it happen,” affirmed Soares.
Molokai community members can visit molokaihighschool.org for more information and updates on Molokai High School.