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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 10, 2002

Our Schools | Lanikai Elementary
Community eager to work with charter school

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

At Lanikai Elementary School, shoes are respectfully left outside the classroom, kindergartners design Web sites and everywhere there are parents volunteering.

Lanikai Elementary School sixth-graders Emily Ishikawa and Kahikolu Pescaia create Web pages about Hamakua Marsh. Lanikai students have used computers to work on water quality and pollution studies.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

School officials say Lanikai represents what is possible to attain at a charter school.

"We exist to keep the voice of the community healthy," said principal Donna Estomago. "Our school is about building partnerships, building community."

As one of the Department of Education's few campuses to make the conversion to a charter school, Lanikai has freedom that other schools do not to try new things.

Along with Wai'alae Elementary, Lanikai was one of the state's first-generation charter schools. Charter schools are allowed to manage their own money and experiment with their curriculum to improve education.

"All of us have chosen to be here," said Heidi Smith, the Parent-Community Networking Center coordinator. "We have a big commitment in this school."

In an effort to avoid relying entirely on state money, the school has pursued grants and community partnerships.

"We don't have a lot of red tape," Estomago said. "People come to us with grants because they know we are open to new ideas and opportunities."

Lanikai has a partnership with the Learning Education Technology Academy, a nonprofit group that has helped the school in the development of its Web projects and the use of its technology. Federal seed money for the charter school was invested in computers, while parents helped wire the campus. The result is a networked campus with 60 to 70 computers in classrooms and in the computer lab.

Lanikai students have used the computers to work on water quality and pollution studies of the Kawainui Marsh and Ka'elepulu Stream and Canal, among other projects, and have produced animated Web sites to present their scientific evidence. They've won international awards for their work. This year's projects is on the revitalization of Hamakua Marsh.

In 1997, a Castle Foundation grant brought a special adaptation of Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Aida" to the campus. The National Tree Trust is giving the school 100 seedlings for trees and bushes. A grant from the military has provided some native plants — and Marines to help plant them.

"People offer their services because we are a charter," said school business manager Carolyn Smith. "They feel like it's not going to get sucked off into the vortex."

Many times, Lanikai officials don't even have to write grant proposals; people come to them with projects and money and ask the school to participate.

With the freedom that comes with being a charter school, Lanikai is able to offer art classes, Hawaiian studies, music and Japanese. There's also a full-time teacher in the computer lab.

Lanikai School recently became the first education recipient of the Noelo Po'okela award in the Hawai'i State Award of Excellence Program.

Ralph Hasegawa, lead examiner of the team that judged the school, said outstanding traits helped Lanikai win the award. The traits include leadership, its 'ohana and its longevity as a charter school, all of which contribute to the quality of education students receive there, said Hasegawa, industrial engineering supervisor at United Parcel Service.

• What are you most proud of? Lanikai students care for one another, Estomago said. A high level of parental involvement in the school probably contributes to the lack of discipline problems. "The fact that I'm here every day and almost never have to deal with discipline problems says something."

• What we need: Without a cooking kitchen, a large cafeteria or a stage, schools assemblies and meetings must be held outside, weather permitting. Hot lunches are brought in from Keolu Elementary School, and most of the students eat on picnic tables outside.

The school's biggest need is a community center, where students, teachers and parents could all gather at the same time for meetings, performances and ceremonies. Also, the school would like to have the meeting place so it could could open it up to local community groups at night or on the weekends. The school has offered to match the state dollar-for-dollar through its own fund-raising if the community center is built.

• Special events: Throughout the year, Lanikai holds everything from silent auctions, wine tastings and haunted houses to physical fitness fairs and school performances. The campus has also been a center of the charter school movement and has held community meetings about issues that DOE charter schools face.

• • •

Lanikai Elementary at a glance

Where: 140 Alala Road

Phone: 266-7844

Web address: http://kalama.doe.hawaii.edu/~lanikai/

Other Lanikai web sites that have the school award-winning environmental projects displayed: www.lanikai.k12.hi.us (the 1998-99 6th grade project), www2.lanikai.k12.hi.us/waters.htm (2000-01 6th grade's project), www2.lanikai.k12.hi.us/waterplay.htm (2000-01 kindergarten project).

Principal: Donna Estomago, who has been at the campus since April 1994.

School mascot: The Sea Turtles

School motto: Ka'ohao, the old Hawaiian name for Lanikai. It means "tying together" or "joining together."

Enrollment: 358 students

Computers: Lanikai considers itself one of the most technologically advanced campuses in the state. With 60 to 70 computers, every classroom is networked and there's a computer lab in the library for classroom use.

SATs: Here's how Lanikai students fared on the most recent Stanford Achievement Test. Listed is the combined percentage of students scoring average and above average, compared with the national average of 77 percent.

Third grade reading: 86 percent

Third grade math: 83 percent

Fifth grade reading: 97 percent

Fifth grade math: 91 percent