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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 6, 2006

Strong support helps Kekaha school

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

Kekaha Elementary School, in hot West Kaua'i, is blessed by a campus filled with mature trees that pro-vide welcome shade, but sweltering classrooms would benefit from air-conditioning, school officials say.

JAN TENBRUGGENCATE | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Where: 8140 Kekaha Road, Kekaha, Kaua'i

Phone: 337-7655

Principal: Carol Shikada, nine months

School mascot: Pueo, or Hawaiian owl

School colors: Yellow and green

History: The school was established in 1888 in the sugar-growing region of West Kaua'i. It stands just west of the old Kekaha Sugar Mill, which was started a few years before the school was established, and which was closed a few years ago.

Testing: Here's how Kekaha Elementary students 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, 78 percent; math, 91 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 77 percent; math, 77 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, 47 percent, compared with state average of 51.8 percent; math, 39 percent, compared with 28.5 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 43 percent, compared with state average of 55.6 percent; math, 23 percent, compared with 25.5 percent.

Computers: At least two in each classroom, plus a 10-computer PC lab and a 30-computer Mac lab.

Enrollment: 238

Low-income enrollment: 62 percent

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KEKAHA, Kaua'i The blessing for Kekaha Elementary School is a campus filled with mature trees that provide shade in the unyielding West Kaua'i sun, but that does little to help classrooms that become baking hot during the warmer months of the year.

"We'd really like to air-condition the campus," said principal Carol Shikada.

But outside the heat, the little school in the former sugar town is a near-perfect community school, she said, It is small enough that teachers know all their students. And it has a strong community supporting its mission.

"I don't think that I've ever seen a school with this much support," she said.

Businesses donate cash, local groups and the Pacific Missile Range Facility have installed playground equipment and a sprinkler system, and there's a strong school-community council, she said. "People who have graduated from here come and ask, 'What do you need?' "

The school also benefits from retired teachers who come back and work part time, or who volunteer to work with the kids, she said.

A key feature of the educational experience at Kekaha is that students requiring special help are placed in small groups for more individualized attention. "What works here is small-group instruction, but it takes more staffing," Shikada said.

Kekaha's student count has been dropping in recent years, but that will change in two years when Waimea Canyon School in the neighboring community switches from serving elementary and middle grades, and becomes a pure middle school. At that point, the K-6 Kekaha campus will lose its sixth grade but will begin sharing the former Waimea Canyon elementary students with 'Ele'ele Elementary School. A growing Hawaiian Home Lands housing area also will add to the student count.

  • What are you most proud of: "The teachers and the staff. Those who come and stay are really committed to the students and the school," Shikada said. The school historically has had a stable staff until this year when, because of retirements and other factors, half of the instructors were new and so was the principal.

  • Best-kept secret: The partnership and support from the community, business, parents and the Pacific Missile Facility. "We've got nice playground equipment," Shikada said with pride.

  • Everybody at our school knows: Rosemary Vaivao, Parent Community Networking Center facilitator. She knows everybody and everybody knows her.

  • Our biggest challenge: Getting all the students to meet educational standards and "to close the achievement gap." The school has a high proportion of disadvantaged students, which makes this a challenge.

  • What we need: The school has been losing enrollment, and as a result, is in danger of losing funds and thus teachers. Shikada said the school needs to try to keep its teacher-student ratio up until enrollment rises in two years when many Waimea Canyon students are expected to move over.

  • Special events: "Gotcha Night." Students are given "Gotcha" cards whenever they are found being safe, respectful or responsible. The cards can be redeemed on "Gotcha Night" for the chance to participate in activities or to buy toys, pencils, tablets or other items. "It's really, really well attended," Shikada said.

    Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.