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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 29, 2006

Community strengthens 'labor of love'

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

One of the annual activities for students at Innovations Public Charter School is a performance of the musical "Annie." Students are involved in all aspects of production, from set design to choreography.

Innovations Public Charter School photos

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AT A GLANCE

Where: 75-5815 Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, Kailua, Kona, on the Big Island

Phone: (808) 327-6205

Web address: www.ipcs.info

Director: Barbara Woerner

School colors: Teal and white

Testing: Here's how Innovations 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, 94 percent; math, 82 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 78 percent; math, 91 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, 69 percent, compared with state average of 51.8 percent; math, 56 percent, compared with 28.5 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 48 percent, compared with state average of 55.6 percent; math, 36 percent, compared with 25.5 percent.

Enrollment: 120

Low-income enrollment: 11 percent

History: Chartered in December 2000 as a Public Charter School. The school began its first school year in August 2001.

Special programs or classes: Music, art and drama classes

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For a class project, Nicole Nakakura discusses one of her weekend activities spelunking. Students at Innovations are given the opportunity to research and present on topics that interest them.

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A lot has changed since January when Innovations Public Charter School on the Big Island moved into a renovated house and two "cathedral tents" in Kailua, Kona.

Two brand-new buildings are expected to be completed by the time students arrive back on campus from summer break on July 25, said school director Barbara Woerner.

"Each classroom will have 1,000 square feet plus a 400-square-feet covered lanai for projects. So we're very excited and the buildings look beautiful," Woerner said. "To finally have this campus is very exciting for all of us."

As a start-up charter school, Innovations had to find money to pay for facilities. So when the school was established in 2001 by a group of five former Department of Education teachers, it shared facilities with another public school in Kona.

Innovations soon outgrew the limited space and eventually established its own campus. That was in January.

The school obtained grant money and a commercial bank loan to pay for the design and construction of the classroom buildings. Woerner said the buildings were designed to be inviting and not "institutional-like." Each building will house two classes.

"We need a third building, but we can only build what we can afford," Woerner said. For now the tents will remain on campus and will house general classes as well as art, music and drama classes.

Innovations is a "labor of love by the community," Woerner said. Community volunteers, donations from local hardware stores, help from Hawai'i County and parents all made the Innovations campus possible, she said.

But students and families were never attracted to the school for its buildings. Innovations' curriculum is what has people talking.

The school, which serves students in grades 1-6, was recognized by the state Department of Education as a Distinguished School in 2004 for its soaring test scores.

Woerner credits the "thematic, student-centered approach" to curriculum for the school's success.

"Teachers talk to students about what they are interested in and what they like to learn more about," Woerner said. "Kids are given (the) opportunity to do their own individual inquiries, become independent learners and researchers."

Innovations is in high demand, Woerner said. The wait list is up to more than 250 students, and parents are putting in requests for a preschool and even a middle school.

"This school, it's a community project," she said. "We wouldn't be here without all the community support we've received."

  • What are you most proud of?: "Managing to build this campus. I'm really proud of how this community has come together to build this campus," Woerner said.

  • Best-kept secret: "We work as a family. And teachers love their jobs; they love it here," she said.

  • Everybody at our school knows: "Students know every person here. That's part of what we love about the school," she said.

  • Our biggest challenge: Mostly financial issues, Woerner said.

  • What we need: To remodel the administration building by converting it from classrooms to offices and more play fields for the students.

  • Projects: The school administration is working on obtaining a number of grants to help with funding.

  • Special events: A winter and spring performance each year. In May students put on a full production of the musical "Annie," complete with sets and choreography done by students.

    Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.