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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

View's nice, but it doesn't pay the bills

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

Students at St. Theresa School play near a big monkeypod tree on their campus in Kekaha, Kaua'i, just across the highway from the ocean. St. Theresa School has the lowest private school tuition on the island at $2,300 a sum that will likely rise next year.

JAN TENBRUGGENCATE | The Honolulu Advertiser

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AT A GLANCE

Where: 8311 Kaumuali'i Highway, Kekaha, Kaua'i

Phone: 337-1351

Principal: Sister Elizabeth Ann, in her third year

School mascot: Eagle

School colors: Green and yellow-gold

History: Launched in 1946, when four Franciscan sisters from Manitowoc, Wis., arrived to start giving classes to the mainly Filipino and Portuguese children of Roman Catholic plantation workers. They taught in old Army barracks that had been dismantled, moved to the 4-acre coastal site, and rebuilt. More buildings were added as the school grew, but Hurricane Iniki in 1992 wiped them all out. After the storm, classes were held in mobile quarters until 1995, when new concrete buildings were completed.

Computers: Classes K-4 have computers in the classrooms. Almost all the computers in the school computer room are repaired and refurbished PCs of various makes provided by members of the community.

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KEKAHA, Kaua'i St. Theresa School is short on cash, but the oceanfront facility has a million-dollar view.

"If you go up to the second floor, it's a $2 million view," said principal Sister Elizabeth Ann, a Franciscan sister originally from Chicago but whose religious "home" is in Manitowoc, Wis.

The school is just west of the classic architecture of St. Theresa Church, and directly across Kaumuali'i Highway from the ocean. You can see the sea through the hedges from the ground floor, but from the second story, passing tour boats, sunbaking tourists and shoreline anglers are all readily visible.

The stunning scenery, ironically, hides a serious problem: The school is strapped for operating funds. It has the lowest private school tuition on the island, $2,300 a sum that will certainly have to rise next year to keep costs under control, Sister Elizabeth Ann said.

More students would help, too. St. Theresa has 162 students in pre-kindergarten to grade 8, and could handle about 220.

"We want to grow," Sister Elizabeth Ann said.

Students at the Catholic school receive religious training as well as a standard education even the kids who are not from Roman Catholic families. Sister Elizabeth Ann said 73 percent of students are Catholic.

"We say that St. Theresa School educates the heart, mind and the soul," she said.

St. Theresa has 12 teachers, including three Franciscan sisters. Classes range from 12 to 21 students.

  • What are you most proud of? "The commitment of the people. There's that sense of a real family spirit," Sister Elizabeth Ann said.

  • Best-kept secret: "Our students do very well academically. This year they did the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and most of our students did 50 percent or better."

  • Everybody at our school knows: Sharon Souza, the preschool teacher who has been at the school 18 years and is the school's most veteran teacher. Most students have been in her class.

  • Our biggest challenge: "It's financial. We're trying to keep the school afloat, and we'll need to reorganize ourselves a little bit," said Sister Elizabeth Ann.

    St. Theresa's small size and low tuition have kept it financially strapped. With more lay teachers, who are paid significantly more than the Franciscan sisters who started the school, costs are rising.

  • What we need: "We've been working hard to get the computer room up and running, because we really want to develop our tech. We feel that's the future for many of our children."

  • Projects: The school community gets together each year for its May Day festival, normally on a Saturday, which brings the entire school community together. One special feature: Eighth-graders traditionally do a fire dance.

  • Special events: The school's primary fundraiser and a special event for the entire west side of Kaua'i is St. Theresa's Carnival, held on the school grounds each year, two weeks after Easter. Students' families are expected to sell 300 tickets each. The carnival features game booths, food and entertainment. This year, the carnival is April 28 and 29.

    Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.