Big Isle school to seek charter status
By Jason Armstrong
Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School may now apply to the state for public charter school status following Wednesday's supportive 145-35 vote by parents and teachers.
"We won. We're going to have a charter school," community member Judi Steinman said after the ballots were tallied.
Low student enrollment has landed the Big Island school on the state Department of Education's closure/consolidation list. For two consecutive years, the school also has failed to meet progress provisions mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law, triggering restructuring efforts.
School supporters turned to the charter school option as a way of keeping classrooms open and expanding the curriculum.
Successfully converting to a charter school would remove the school from the closure/consolidation list, Department of Education Assistant Superintendent Randy Moore recently told the Tribune-Herald.
A group calling itself Save/Improve Laupahoehoe High and Elementary School has spent $150,000 during the past year on the conversion effort. The money came from a three-year, $450,000 federal grant.
Fred Pollock, project manager for the federal charter school grant, called the vote result a "sign of great community support for reclaiming education in our area."
The "landslide" result now allows school supporters to submit their conversion plan to the state Charter School Review Panel for approval, he said.
Pollock suggested the panel won't consider the request for a couple of months, however.
"I think this is going to bring the community together," he said Wednesday evening by telephone from the school campus. "And we're going to work very hard to make sure this charter school initiative works."
Supporters of the proposed conversion hope achieving charter school status will allow for the return of art, music, forestry, engineering and culinary classes. They also want to improve vocational programs such as agriculture, auto shop and woodworking. Some 247 ballots were mailed to parents and guardians of current students, and school employees. The school now enrolls 203 students.
The League of Women Voters assisted with the voting effort.