The Power of School Choice


Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large It was a beautiful sunny Moloka‘i afternoon. Anticipation filled the air as children laughed and screamed, pretending to be afraid. A line of adults counted out loud as they moved in behind the children. “‘Ekahi, ‘elua, ‘ekolu!” Then, suddenly, the keiki turned around, made the most ferocious sounds they could muster, and chased the grown-ups, who now scurried to safety.

This was my first back to school experience at the Kualapu‘u Public Conversion Charter School on the island of Moloka‘i. In one short 45-minute period, I experienced a lesson in Hawaiian language, culture, character building, physical education, cooperation, teamwork, and most of all, fun!

Kualapu‘u Public Conversion Charter School is a remarkable local and national leader in an educational model that is designed to return the power of choice to parents, teachers and the local community. Several years ago, it was clear that the typical model of a centrally state-controlled school was not working for the community on Moloka‘i. That’s when island advocates took matters into their own hands and formed a public charter school.

The key distinction of Kualapu‘u School is that major decisions about what is best for educating keiki are made at the school level, with the input of parents and the community. This has resulted in a high level of accomplishment for the faculty and students.

One of these accomplishments is the creation of an original library of children’s readers and workbooks in Hawaiian and English designed to teach graded language skills. Teachers at the school found that nowhere in the entire Department of Education was there such a curriculum for elementary school children, so they created it themselves, and self-publish it on Amazon!

Another accomplishment is a high-tech robotics program in which students recently won second place (next to a team from China) in an international contest. The program would not exist without the freedom of the principal over hiring decisions, which allows her to hire community members with real-world experience.

And as to facilities, Kualapu‘u Public Conversion Charter School occupies the state-owned buildings of a former traditional public school, bringing the campus alive through creative public-private partnerships for funding.

This model of partnerships is what empowers the school, and gives it the level of autonomy needed over resources in order to meet the needs of its students in the most effective way. In contrast, most students in our state attend schools where a greater amount of decision making is done outside of the local school community.

I’m proud that OHA is one of the partners in the Kualapu‘u Public Conversion Charter School success story. And I commend the work that Moloka‘i trustee and board chair Collette Machado has put into the development of this partnership.

Kualapu‘u Public Conversion Charter School demonstrates how Hawaiians can combine the traditions of our past with the technology of the future in educating our keiki. This remarkable charter school also shows the power of placing choice in the hands of parents, teachers and community members, as they exercise true kuleana for the ‘opio.

Trustee Akina welcomes your comments and can be reached at He is always glad to meet with beneficiaries and community members and welcomes invitations to participate in or speak at community functions.

Note: Trustee columns represent the views of individual trustees and may not reflect the official positions adopted by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.