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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 12, 2003

School thrives on community involvement

Advertiser Staff

The translation of Mililani is "to give thanks, to praise."

Custodians move fifth-grade classroom furniture and supplies into Building E of Mililani Uka Elementary School in an effort to consolidate the grade level into one of the buildings on campus.

Advertiser Staff

And Penny Mau, principal of Mililani Uka Elementary School, does a lot of that.

She believes the school's success is rooted in the support it gets from parents and the community.

The school boasts a strong parent association, Hui 'O Mililani Uka, which recently raised $100,000 for new playground equipment.

Its alumni return to volunteer at the school, helping out former teachers or pitching in at fundraisers.

And on a typical day, Mau said, half the adults on campus are parent and community volunteers, who help in classrooms and in the library.

"That's the first thing that struck me when I came to this campus," said Mau, who has been principal for four years.

Mililani Uka Elementary School principal Penny Mau, left, with her office staff, whom she credits, along with the faculty, for the friendly atmosphere that she feels is special about the school.

Advertiser Staff

Community involvement was evident from the beginning, when the school opened in 1974 across the street on Kuahelani Avenue. Mililani developers Castle & Cooke had built empty, wall-less houses on the campus that were used as classrooms until about six years ago.

Enrollment peaked in the early '90s, when the school had about 1,250 pupils on a campus built to handle about 850. Enrollment has leveled off at about 900, a drop atributed mostly to the opening of Mililani Mauka Elementary School in 1993.

The faculty and staff are proud of how close-knit and comfortable they are with each other, always laughing, always joking around.

That friendly atmosphere is what Mau feels makes the school special.

"I like coming to school," Mau said. "It's fun."

• What are you most proud of? Mau refers to the school as being "high:" high expectations, high achievement, high level of professional development, high staff and parent participation, high community support. "We practice the philosophy of 'unity of effort' and 'spirit of service,'" she said. "I hate to say it, but our school is high all the time."

• Best-kept secret: About 16 percent of Mililani Uka's pupils are children of military parents. The school has a close relationship with the 2/27th Infantry Battalion, fondly known as the "Wolfhounds," who help with campus beautification and the school's Read Aloud Program.

• Everybody at our school knows: Vikki Wong-Webb, the school's parent-community networking coordinator, who has been at the school since 1995. If there's an activity or event, she's most likely in the middle of it. "She's warm, balanced, quietly effective," said vice principal Diana Bonsignore. "She's never hassled, even if she has a million things to do."

• Our biggest challenge: Finding the time to do everything, Mau said. "Our biggest challenge is to optimize the limited time and resources we have to achieve all that we desire to accomplish for our students and our school," she said.

• What we need: Full pay for the parent-community networking coordinator, which is a part-time position financed by both the state and the Hui 'O Mililani Uka. The school also would like to reinstate a tutoring program it had for three years, thanks to a Safe Schools/ Healthy Students Grant. The tutoring targeted pupils in Grades 3 to 5 who needed a little more help.

• Projects: This year the school introduced a Positive Behavior Support program aimed at teaching and rewarding pupils for appropriate behavior in school settings. The school will fully implement the program this coming school year.

• Special events: The school's annual Fall Fest will be held during the last week of October. It's not a fund-raiser but a way to give back to the community, Mau said. The event, which features games and entertainment, is open to the public.

• • •

At a glance

• Where: 94-380 Kuahelani Ave., Mililani

• Phone: 627-7303

• Web address: mililaniuka.com

• Principal: Penny Mau

• School nickname: Egrets

• School colors: Blue and white

• Enrollment: 900

• Testing: Here's how Mililani Uka Elementary pupils fared on the most recent standardized tests.

Stanford Achievement Test: Listed is the combined percentage of pupils scoring average and above average, compared with the national combined average of 77 percent. Third-grade reading, 91.3 percent; math, 9.4 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 90.1 percent; math, 90.8 percent.

Hawai'i Content and Performance Standards tests: Listed is the combined percentage of pupils meeting or exceeding state standards, and a comparison with the state average. Third-grade reading, 63.3 percent, compared with the state average of 42.3 percent; math, 25 percent, compared with 20.2 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 67 percent, compared with state average of 43.4 percent; math, 36.4 percent, compared with 21.8 percent.

• History: Mililani Uka Elementary School opened in 1974 across the street from the current campus. Castle & Cooke built wall-less homes to use as classrooms as the school needed more room for a growing enrollment that peaked at about 1,250. Now with 900 pupils, the school is at capacity, using 12 air-conditioned portable classrooms to accommodate the student population.

• Computers: Every classroom has at least two computers, all with Internet access. The school also has a fully equipped computer lab. By this coming school year the entire school should be wireless, officials said.