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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 26, 2006

State's first charter school going strong

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

There are 21 computers in Wai'alae School's computer lab, but the school needs an electrical upgrade to expand technology.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Where: 1045 19th Ave., Kaimuki

Phone: (808) 733-4880

Principal: Wendy Lagareta, chief education officer for the past 1 1/2 years

School nickname: The Wolves

School colors: Red and white

History: Wai'alae School is a K-5 elementary school in the Kaimuki section of East Honolulu. In 1995, the school became Hawai'i's first Student-Centered School and then four years later, with the passage of Hawai'i's "charter school law," evolved into a New Century Public Charter School.

Testing: Here's how Wai'alae 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 percent; math, 94 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 92 percent; math, 96 percent.

  • Hawai'i State Assessment: Listed is the combined percentage of pupils meeting or exceeding state standards, and a comparison with the state average. Third-grade reading, 59 percent, compared with state average of 51.8 percent; math, 28 percent, compared with 28.5 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 81 percent, compared with state average of 55.6 percent; math, 29 percent, compared with 25.5 percent.

    Computers: For students, 21 computers in a lab and 60 computers spread out in all the classrooms and five in the library.

    Enrollment: 440 students, with room for 472

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    The state's first charter school, Wai'alae School, still is happy with its decision years ago to break from the state Department of Education.

    The elementary school has more control over its money, its curriculum and the school's overall direction, said Wendy Lagareta, Wai'alae School's chief education officer.

    What's more it can set class size and limit enrollment. Each grade, except kindergarten that has 18 students, is limited to 20 students, Lagareta said. And more than half the student population is made up of students applying to attend from outside the school's geographic boundaries, she said.

    One of the main draws is that the school offers art, music, Hawaiiana and PE as part of the core curriculum, she said.

    "We are a school of choice. We receive more applications for students than we can select," Lagareta said. "Parent involvement is part of the mission of our school. The community of learners includes the parents."

  • What are you most proud of? "Three things really. The role that Wai'alae School has played in making the charter school concept a reality," Lagareta said. "We have a beautiful campus that is well-maintained and is a source of pride for our school. And our commitment to the whole child."

  • Best-kept secret: "I think it's our food service," Lagareta said. "We're able to offer our children breakfast and lunch that's really good. The whole concept is based on choice. We offer fresh fruit every morning and for lunch we have a salad bar offered every day."

  • Everybody at our school knows: Mr. G, "Mark Guillermo, our school counselor," Lagareta said. "He's very visible on campus. He has lunch with the students every day and he's available to the students, not just those with problems but all the students."

  • Our biggest challenge: "Doing more with less," Lagareta said. "We receive less per pupil funding than DOE (state Department of Education) schools. We have learned to prioritize our budget and to put our money where our vision is."

  • What we need: A complete electrical upgrade. The school is unable to add any more technology until the electrical system is upgraded, Lagareta said.

  • Special events: Each January the school holds an orientation for new families so that everyone understands the philosophy of the charter school. Every other year the school holds a fun fair. Fifth-graders have two special projects a year: market day and a living museum. Fourth-graders make an annual trip to the Big Island. The school is also home to FELLOWS Fellowship, Education, Life-long Learning Opportunities With Seniors a program in which senior citizens mentor students.

    Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com.