Room to Grow

Aka`ula to add ninth grade in the fall

Aka`ula School plans to add high school grades, starting with ninth grade next fall.

Administrators at the private school, which currently teaches grades five through eight, are weighing the option of adding grades 10 through 12 at the same time or in subsequent years.

The school would likely hire another full-time teacher, part-time support staff and incorporate some online instruction, said Head of School Vicki Newberry. The school plans to hold a community meeting next month to present more detailed expansion plans.

The idea is to start small.

“We’re not looking at wanting to have a first big class… We believe in doing things well rather than large,” Newberry said, adding that preliminary talks with parents, students and the community have been positive.

The school boasts a comprehensive liberal arts curriculum and employs PRISM – Providing Resolutions with Integrity for a Sustainable Molokai – a program that stresses critical thinking and community involvement in teaching environmental sciences.

Newberry and Aka`ula Principal Dara Lukonen, both middle school teachers, started the school in 2003 after seeing the effects of No Child Left Behind – cutting subjects other than reading and math in an effort to bolster test scores.

Adding high school was not part of their plan.

“We’re middle school teachers, that’s what we [wanted] to do… But right from the get-go, we were getting people saying, ‘Why don’t you go to high school?’” Newberry said.

“We wanted to provide that choice [in high schools] the way we do middle schools.”

While the school’s entrance policy has so far been all inclusive, Newberry said the high school would be more selective and based on students’ commitment to learning.

Eighth grader Cameron Thayne plans to enrolling in Aka`ula’s first ninth grade class next fall. He said he was excited to hear about the expansion.

“I thought it was cool because it’s a good school and that means I get to stay here,” he said.

Aided by a grant from Hawaii Community Foundation, Aka`ula will submit its application for accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in the spring.

“It’s a fairly extensive process to get accredited,” Newberry said.
Staff will evaluate their curriculum and financial resources, and accrediting officials will visit the school to meet with parents, teachers, students and the school’s board of directors.


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