Members of the Kualapu’u Elementary School community learned about the growing pains of charter schools in Hawaii at a recent retreat for the Local Advisory Panel of Molokai’s only charter school.
Special guests at the Nov. 8 gathering in the school cafeteria were Megan McCorriston, president of the Ho’okako’o Corporation (HC) Board of Directors, and Lynn Finnegan, executive director of the Hawaii Charter School Network (HCSN). HC serves as the administrative oversight and support system for Kualapu’u, while the HCSN acts as an umbrella organization advocating for all of Hawaii’s 31 charter schools.
These two experts on charter schools offered an overview of the recently created Charter School Governance, Accountability and Authority Task Force (CSGTF). This task force was established by state legislation (Act 130) signed into law in June.
Kualapu’u Elementary: A Public Conversion Charter School has made tremendous strides forward since changing over to a charter school in 2007. The school is in its second year of implementing an Extended Learning Time (ELT) program that added almost an hour to the school day. ELT has allowed the school to add 30 minutes a day of physical education instruction while also providing weekly classes in performing arts, visual arts, computers and ike Hawaii. These types of educational innovations would not have been possible had Kualapu’u remained a Department of Education public school.
Two members of the school’s student council, president Nathan Horner and Secretary Tehani Keohuloa, both sixth graders, stood in front of the room to talk about what they liked about Kualapu’u. They both cited ELT is as top reasons for enjoying their experience at Kualapu’u.
Kualapu’u also houses a K-6 Hawaiian Language Immersion Program and has grown to almost 400 students, making it the largest elementary school on Molokai.
But not all of the 31 charter schools in Hawaii have experienced the same kind of success as Kualapu’u. A report issued by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers in September said the weaknesses of the Hawaii system, “are a function of poorly-defined roles and responsibilities” of the Charter School Review Panel, the sole authorizer for charter schools in the state. The CSRP is responsible for authorizing the creation of new charter schools and renewing or denying existing charters. The NACSA places Hawaii near the bottom of the 44 states that allow charter schools.
As the charter school movement gains more schools and students, questions around creating new legislative and administrative rules to accommodate the growing demand have come to the forefront.
Finnegan addressed some of these questions in her presentation. The CSGTF, Finnegan explained, offers a new, broadly-represented task force to take a hard look at equity, autonomy, transparency and accountability for charter schools.
“This is where we are now,” said Finnegan. “How do we create accountability for public funds?” she asked rhetorically. “That’s mainly where the conversation is.”
While considering these fundamental questions for the governance of charter schools, the task force will search for a general consensus on these questions: What is working and should be kept? What should be considered for repeal or elimination? What should be changed? What additional work must be done in this area?
While the roles and responsibilities of these state-level administrative organizations continue to be defined within this new law, there is at least one area that everyone seems to agree on. As McCorriston said, “This (new law) allows schools to reach their desired outcomes in ways that are most appropriate to them.”