Photo: Kanu o ka ʻĀina Learning ʻOhana Team Members
Kanu o ka ʻĀina Learning ʻOhana (KALO) has been supporting Hawaiian-focused charter schools since 2000. The KALO team includes (l-r): Joe Fraser, Noekeonaona Kirby, Katie Benioni, Ikaika Jenks-Pua‘a, Nancy Levenson and Taffi Wise. - Courtesy Photo

Kanu o ka ʻĀina Learning ʻOhana (KALO) is playing a key role in OHA’s support of Hawaiian-focused Charter Schools

Since 2005, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) has provided more than $21.5 million in per pupil funding to 17 Hawaiian-focused public charter schools.

These schools share a common focus of using innovative educational approaches to perpetuate ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, impart Hawaiian culture and traditions, and achieve academic excellence. OHA has been a consistent champion of the Hawaiian-focused charters, offering programmatic support, providing advocacy on the legislative level, and awarding grant funding.

In October, trustees approved per pupil funding totaling $3 million over the next two fiscal years. In addition, OHA has created a new phase of its Hawaiian-Focused Public Charter School Fund Administration grant which will see an additional $3 million being provided to the 17 schools to assist with unmet facility needs.

The administration grant was awarded to Kanu o ka ʻĀina Learning ʻOhana (KALO), which has been supporting Hawaiian-focused charter schools since 2000 when the first charters were issued. KALO is dedicated to preserving Hawaiian language, culture, and traditions while simultaneously empowering the community.

Among its many programs, KALO is an educational partner to Kanu o ka ʻĀina New Century Public Charter School (KANU), which is one of the 17 schools included in the OHA grant. As such, OHA directly administers funds provided for KANU, while the other 16 schools have their funds administered by KALO.

Ka Wai Ola recently sat down with KALO’s Chief Information Officer Nancy Levenson, whose role includes grant compliance oversight, to discuss how OHA and KALO are supporting the more than 4,000 students who attend these schools.

KWO: Could you briefly describe what is involved in administering these funds for the charter schools?

Nancy Levenson: KALO has been collaborating with the 16 charter schools supported by the OHA grant since 2000, and we’ve fostered strong relationships with the school leaders. KALO ensures the establishment of Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) with each school, designs reporting frameworks, oversees the tracking of progress, collects data reports, and compiles comprehensive reports to submit to OHA. In addition, KALO provides support to the schools by coordinating an annual conference and engaging in advocacy initiatives.

KWO: What advantages does it bring to have KALO administer these funds?

Nancy Levenson: Our team has extensive experience in grant management and the complexities that come with it. This experience is invaluable in navigating the intricacies of administering funds, ensuring compliance with OHA’s requirements, and optimizing the impact of the funds on the schools and their students.

KALO’s in-depth knowledge of each school community and their unique needs is a significant advantage. Our established processes for fund administration promote accountability, reporting efficiency and transparency in the use of funds. This is critical in maintaining the trust of all stakeholders, including the schools, OHA, and the broader community.

KWO: Support for facilities needs is a new phase of the OHA grant. Could you talk about the type of projects this funding will go toward?

Nancy Levenson: In a survey conducted among our 16 participating schools, all 16 programs reported having unmet facility needs. These include a lack of classroom space and buildings for students and staff, and the need for repairs and maintenance of current facilities. Issues related to plumbing, sewage, dining areas, and air conditioning were also of major concern. Other facility needs mentioned by schools included expenses for rent and utilities, the absence of security systems, and the necessity for equipment like tables, desks, and student transportation vehicles.

Since the commencement of the OHA grant, schools are beginning to address these needs. The most common being addressed are repairs and maintenance of buildings and equipment, while eight schools have submitted expenditures related to rent and utilities. Additionally, the schools have addressed issues such as the installation of security systems, procurement of equipment, and the purchase of vehicles.

KWO: What is the most important thing for the community to know about OHA’s support of these schools?

Nancy Levenson: OHA’s funding for Native Hawaiian charter schools reflects a holistic approach to education. These schools incorporate cultural practices, land stewardship, and community values into their educational models, nurturing the overall wellbeing of students and the community, which empowers Native Hawaiians to take control of their educational destiny. It encourages self-determination and self-governance, which are central to OHA’s mission in supporting the Native Hawaiian community.

Community awareness is crucial regarding the fact that the Hawaiian-focused public charter schools, supported by OHA funding, are closely aligned with OHA’s strategic objectives in education. These objectives are centered on advancing the welfare and achievements of Native Hawaiian communities. OHA’s steadfast advocacy and support play a vital role in ensuring the sustainability of school leadership, allowing these institutions to continue their important work.

KWO: What would you say is the best thing about OHA providing this funding for the charter schools?

Nancy Levenson: One of the best things about OHA providing funding for charter schools is that it creates stability for these schools, allowing them to direct their focus toward educational excellence. Simultaneously, it empowers schools to offer culturally appropriate ʻāina and language-based learning, contributing to the preservation and revitalization of Hawaiian culture, enriching the lives of students, and strengthening the lāhui.