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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 14, 2006

School prides itself on closeness

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ka'u High and Pahala Elementary School, with its 33-acre campus and 512 students, serves an area the size of O'ahu. It features beautiful landscaping, views of Mauna Loa to the ocean.

Ka'u High and Pahala Elementary School

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Where: 96-3150 Pikake St., Pahala, Big Island

Phone: (808) 928-2088

Web address: www.k12.hi.us/~kau

Principal: Sharon Beck, who started at the school in July

School nickname: Trojans

School colors: Maroon and white

Testing: Here's how Ka'u High and Pahala 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, 65 percent; math, 60 percent. Fourth-grade reading, 88 percent; math, 100 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 64 percent; math, 78 percent. Sixth-grade reading, 62 percent; math, 80 percent. Seventh-grade reading, 64 percent; math, 68 percent. Eighth-grade reading, 61 percent; math, 57 percent. Tenth-grade reading, 51 percent; math, 44 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, 13 percent, compared with state average of 50.2 percent; math, 4 percent, compared with 30 percent. Fourth-grade reading, 56 percent, compared with state average of 58.1 percent; math, 29 percent, compared with 32.5 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 49 percent, compared with state average of 43.5 percent; math, 30 percent, compared with 24 percent. Sixth-grade reading, 38 percent, compared with state average of 47.5 percent; math, 8 percent, compared with 27.6 percent. Seventh-grade reading, 32 percent, compared with state average of 47.3 percent; math, 24 percent, compared with 29.1 percent. Eighth-grade reading, 21 percent, compared with state average of 38.6 percent; math, 14 percent, compared with 25.1 percent. Tenth-grade reading, 27 percent, compared with state average of 42.8 percent; math, 5 percent, compared with 18.4 percent.

History: The school is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. It started with a class of 48 students, who were children of sugar plantation workers. The school moved to its present site in 1936, the same year it added a ninth-grade class. In 1939, it had a full high school and its enrollment was 628 students.

Enrollment: 512

Low-income enrollment: 64 percent

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The 512 students who attend Ka'u High and Pahala Elementary School on the Big Island commute from across a massive rural school district, which is geographically as large as the entire island of O'ahu. Some start the day with a 40-minute bus ride.

But for many, the difficulty in getting to school is the least of their academic barriers. Many come from low-income households, and 16.5 percent speak English as a second language. Nearly two-thirds qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, a common measure of poverty.

"We're faced with many challenges," said school Principal Sharon Beck. "But what I've really noticed is the students and teachers are problem-solvers."

And the size of the school decreases the chances of students falling through the cracks. At the first sign of a student in trouble, Beck said, teachers and counselors move into action. "The students and families know the staff personally. The teachers are part of this community," she said.

"Everybody knows everyone. You're not one of 1,000."

The school was founded in 1881 to serve children whose parents worked at nearby sugar plantations. It moved to its current location in 1936, the same year it started admitting ninth-graders. Today, the school and its sprawling, 33-acre campus, with a county swimming pool and a public and school library, is a gathering place for families from Pahala to Na'alehu and Hawaiian Ocean View Estates.

Connie Hand started as a student activities coordinator at the school 15 years ago, after falling in love with the Big Island during vacations from Oregon.

She said the beauty of the school is in the people, students, teachers, staff and community members, all of whom try to make the campus a warm, nurturing environment. "I love it here," she said. "The kids are wonderful."

For Beck, who became the school's principal in July, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring the school meets requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The campus has struggled to meet the federal mandate and was put into restructuring, the most serious sanction under No Child Left Behind, in the 2003-2004 school year.

Recently, the school was forced to cut its high school elective offerings so teachers could focus more on remedial math and reading courses. At the elementary school, students got more English and math instruction.

  • What are you most proud of? "There's a lot," Beck said. "Most importantly, it's the people."

  • Best-kept secret: Beautiful landscaping, views of Mauna Loa to the ocean and the "aloha of the people," Beck said.

  • Everybody at our school knows: Michael Silva, the school's security aide. "He makes sure when any visitors come on campus, they check in," Beck said. "Any students who are tardy, they're escorted to class."

  • Our biggest challenge: Meeting No Child Left Behind Act testing standards and increasing requirements for students and teachers.

  • What we need: Better transportation for students in athletic and other extracurricular activities. Some students cannot participate in after-school programs because they have to catch a bus for the long trip home.

  • Special events: Homecoming week is Oct. 23 to 28.

    Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.