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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Maui group works to set up charter school in Keanae

Maui News

KEANAE A fledgling nonprofit has set a goal to establish a charter school in Keanae.

The group includes parents and grandparents of Keanae and Waialua schoolchildren who endure a one-hour bus ride on weekdays along narrow and winding Hana Highway to reach Hana High and Elementary School.

Keanae School stopped holding classes in 2005, but it wasn't until this year that the Board of Education deemed the campus officially closed and voted to accept a recommendation to consolidate Keanae School with the Hana School campus.

State Department of Education officials estimate the decision saves at least $32,000 a year, plus close to a million dollars in improvements needed to reopen Keanae School.

Meanwhile, "Ka Waianu o Haloa" registered as a nonprofit with the mission to open a charter school for children living in East Maui. The name refers to the cold water of Haloa, a source that helps the community grow and prosper.

The nonprofit's mission, found in a development brochure, is to "facilitate the development of rigorous cultural and educational standards and to foster lifelong learners.

"We will strive to create a safe learning environment in which students are encouraged to explore and express their ideas as self-directed learners."

Founder and group president Sommer "Kehau" Kimokeo, the mother of three children ages 8, 6 and 1, said her group had begun to draft a detailed implementation plan on its vision for a charter school.

It will take at least a year and a couple of months, Kimokeo said, but eventually the group hopes to use the Keanae School campus as the grounds for its new charter school.

Kimokeo said the ultimate goal would be to build a K-12 campus, but realistically Ka Waianu o Haloa would probably start with a K-3 or K-5 program.

By the end of this year, the group hopes to work out a lease agreement with the state to use the Keanae School facility to run health programs and community activities for all ages.

"Our greatest need right now is funding," Kimokeo said, adding that her group knows it needs to raise money to make improvements to the deteriorating buildings.

The one-room schoolhouse is an old wooden-frame, termite-damaged structure in need of substantial repair. A 2009 DOE report estimated costs for overdue repairs and maintenance at $1,032,000 and placed a price tag for additional deferred facility projects at $311,000.

Hana High and Elementary School Principal Rick Paul said he supports the establishment of a charter school in Keanae. Paul served as the first principal of Kihei Charter High School when it opened several years ago.

"I'm always a person who supports choices. I've never thought one size fits all in education," Paul said. "I wish them luck, and it really does expand opportunities for people in this area."

Former Maui County Council Member Bob Carroll, who served as the chairman of the task force on the school consolidation, said he was sorry to see the DOE close Keanae School but glad that the new nonprofit was seeking a new alternative.

"It's about as good as we can get here," Carroll said, adding that he would have preferred to see Keanae School reopened. "We'll take what we can get."

Carroll said he also was glad to see that DOE officials have decided to give Ka Waianu o Haloa until December before taking action on what to do next with the Keanae School campus.

Kimokeo said her group will continue to work on its proposed school through the next several months and will be appealing to the public for monetary support. For more information, contact Kimokeo at 248-7403 or e-mail: kwoh7@gmail.com.