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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Nanakuli wants to split up intermediate, high schools

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By Will Hoover
Advertiser Wai'anae Coast Writer

Taejiana Gross, 13, a seventh-grader at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School, walks with friend Glenda Supnet, 14, a ninth-grader, near the entrance to "B" building, where middle school classes are held. The rest of the campus is essentially for the high school.

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Junior Danielle Choate and seniors Natasha Mendonca and Maribell Pabalan chat near the front entrance to the administration building.

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Nanakuli High and Intermediate School's "B" building is virtually the exclusive domain of middle school students.

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NANAKULI Folks in this community say it's time to divide Nanakuli High and Intermediate School into two separate learning facilities.

Advocates feel so strongly that some have even suggested erecting a fence on campus to separate the seventh- and eighth-graders from the older kids to minimize the risk of bullying, intimidation and exposure to negative influences such as smoking and cutting classes.

Talk of dividing the schools has been around for some time, but recently the Board of Education endorsed the general idea, giving supporters new hope that the split could become a reality.

"It can be done," said board member Herbert Watanabe, adding that there would need to be an additional principal and other staff, which would mean more money.

However, the board challenged supporters to show that the community is clearly united.

Kimo Keli'i, 45, a life-long Nanakuli resident, has become the driving force behind the proposal.

"Separating these two schools would definitely be in the best interests of the children for a variety of reasons," said Keli'i. "The high school kids are bigger, older and they're modeling behaviors that influence the younger kids" behaviors such as public displays of affection, smoking and aggressiveness, he said.

"You've got these little children who still look like elementary kids who play tag and hide-and-seek, and they're transitioning into this next level. But the influence of the high schoolers is overwhelming them."

Keli'i sees the situation from several viewpoints as a community member, as a parent with a daughter at the school, as an English teacher there, and as chairman of the education committee of the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board.

The community favors the split, he said. Less certain is how it would be done. Teachers, parents and community members have been invited to brainstorm the process.

"The majority of the community and the parents, they want it separated right off the bat," said Keli'i. "Let's just get it done."

SOLUTIONS OFFERED

Some have suggested putting barriers between the high school and middle school buildings and splitting immediately, or even building a new intermediate school or high school elsewhere. But Keli'i said teachers believe a new school would be too costly, and a sudden change would be disruptive and controversial.

As a result, they have developed a five-year plan to phase in the shift on the current campus.

That would begin by putting a fence between the buildings used by the intermediate and high school students, said Keli'i. Since all students would still share many facilities, the cafeteria, the administration building and even some teachers the fence would be more of a symbolic gesture, he said.

But by phasing in the changes, the teachers feel the result would leave two distinct schools on the same campus each with its own administration, principal and teachers. By employing a different bell system for each, high schoolers and intermediate students would, for example, never occupy the cafeteria at the same time.

And although both student bodies would continue to share such things as the library, gym and athletic field, contact could be kept to a minimum, said Keli'i.

Robin Kitso, the school's performing arts teacher, agrees that the younger students need to be separated from the high school students.

"It's just not a good mix," said Kitso. "The needs of middle school students are much different than the needs of the high school students. There has been a swell from the community and faculty about wanting the split. Apparently, the Board of Education members weren't real aware that this was an issue. So, a first step was to educate them. The next step is to follow up with the board and to lobby the powers that be that this is important."

PROS AND CONS

Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said the BOE generally supports the idea, with reservations.

"If it's divided, is it economically feasible?" said Knudsen. "I think that's the biggest question still. When you're looking at the pros and cons, that's one of the cons.

"There are a lot of pros, too," he said. "Yes, the community would prefer having it split. Right now they're not talking about separate campuses. Maybe down the road that will happen. For now, they're talking about taking a closer look at how to make a real distinct separation of the single campus."

That needs to happen, said Keli'i. The school began as a rural institution. Since then, new subdivisions have entered the area, altering the social and cultural makeup of the predominantly Hawaiian community.

"Things are changing," Keli'i said. "It's not so much that the population is growing. It's that the disposition of the children is different."

Nanakuli High and Intermediate School actually began as part of an experiment in transition.

In 1967, Nanaikapono Elementary School, which had become crowded, was split in two. The kindergarten through sixth-grade school occupied the west end of the campus, while a school for students in seventh through ninth grades on the east side marked the beginnings of Nanakuli High and Intermediate School.

Nanakuli High and Intermediate had left the Nanaikapono campus by 1972 and moved to its present location on the hillside at 89-980 Nanakuli Ave.

'IT'S ABOUT TIME'

School Principal Levi Chang believes that splitting into two separate campuses is preferable, and notes the school would get more money under such a plan. But he wonders if it would work from a practical standpoint.

"It's about time we do it if we can," he said. "But our enrollment has declined in the past two years, so I don't know now if it's feasible. On paper it's a good thing. But realistically, there's just no land around to build another school."

And Chang contends that to create separate schools on the same campus would make it "a split in name only."

"I think moving to a different campus, that's going to be tough in our day and age, land is hard to come by," he said. "And if it was two schools on the same campus, you'd still have the same problems."

Advertiser staff writer Beverly Creamer contributed to this report.

Reach Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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