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A Tale of Two Schools in Hawaii

Nanakuli High and Intermediate School. Moanalua High School. Both of these public schools have big reputations, good and bad. We spent time on each campus to find out what they’re really like. It may surprise you.


(page 6 of 6)

photos: harold julian

Pendergast says it’s helpful for students who haven’t thought about life-after-graduation, but it also benefits those who have their futures mapped out. “You need to be able to plan for whatever life throws at you.”


At a Glance

Moanalua High School

Number of students: 2,010
Number of teachers: 135
DOE funding per student: $4,859
School day: 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 or 2:40 p.m
Graduation rate: 98 percent


The DOE has taken note of the program’s success. In 2006, it mandated that all high schools have a “personal transition plan” for every student. By then, CAP was 10 years old, and is the most robust in the system. Casinas says she’s visited 20 high schools to help implement similar programs.

This program consistency extends to the special education department. For the past 15 years, special-education and general-education teachers have worked side by side in classes such as ninth-and 10th-grade English, social studies, algebra, geometry and science. There are 17 special-education teachers who work with about 150 students per  year. Co-teaching “exposes them to the general curriculum,” says department head Lisa Goto, adding that, behavior and social skills improve for many students as a result.

New this year is Moanalua’s Read 180 class, a reading-intervention program. Jennifer Ly works with six students, five of them boys, in her Period 3 class. One day, the class watched a video about war memorials and discussed the pros and cons of war. Students then picked a book to read from the shelf or worked at the computer. “It’s geared to their reading level,” says Ly, explaining that the classes were started to provide additional support to improve reading and writing proficiencies.

Helping Students Get Back on Track

While Galera says Moanalua has “high expectations” for everyone on campus, not all students have a 4.1 GPA and are on the fast track to Stanford or Yale. Like Nanakuli, Moanalua also has a Comprehensive School Alienation Program (CSAP) to help failing students. There are 180 to 240 students in CSAP every school year. Some receive additional class time after school, or are on a modified schedule. Moanalua also has Special Motivation Classes (SMC), for those who need alternative classroom settings.

Charlene Hosokawa is a SMC English teacher. In one class, she has seven students. It’s still a lot to handle, particularly one girl. She’s playing on her phone, which is against school rules, and is ranting and cursing about a girl who bought the same prom dress she did. One student is no longer coming to class; she’s about to give birth. Still, the students manage to work on the day’s lesson.

“The biggest thing is to accept them for who they are, not who you want them to be,” says Hosokawa, who’s been at Moanalua for 20 years. In a go-getter student environment such as Moanalua, some students feel alienated and unable to relate, she explains.

Granted, Moanalua deals with far fewer students with personal or family issues than Nanakuli staff, but it still has similar support structures in place. At some point or other, many of Moanalua’s struggling students have worked with Larry Park, who’s been the outreach counselor since 1988.

“He’s basically a dad to us,” says one senior. “He’ll never let you say no.” She says she was having problems in and out of school last year and wanted to drop out, but Park persuaded her otherwise. This year, she’ll not only graduate, she’s already been accepted to two colleges.

“I try to improve their attitude about school and themselves,” says Park. “A lot of them have a lack of confidence.” He counsels kids who are in rehab for meth addictions, teenage girls with babies (he says there are about four to eight teen pregnancies every year) and kids who chronically skip school. He can relate to them: Park admits he wasn’t the best student himself.

“He’s always been here to help me,” says another student. “I was ineligible to play sports for the first three years of school because of my bad grades,” he says. He says Park worked with him, not only so he could play sports, but so he could graduate. He was able to play sports this year, and was recently accepted to a Mainland university.  He says if it weren’t for Park, “I wouldn’t be graduating, guaranteed.”

Striving for Success

Moanalua High School, a well-functioning public high school, can be a blueprint for other Hawaii schools to follow. With the Race to the Top reforms and support in the zone schools, there’s hope that the achievement gap between high-performing and low-performing schools will diminish. Taylor says Moanalua is successful for three reasons: professional development for educators, committed teachers and involved students. “You need all three,” he says. “I think we’ve got all three here, but without one of those pieces, it wouldn’t work.”

Nanakuli, too, has committed teachers and hard-working students; it’s just that its successes are overshadowed by the school’s larger management challenges. “It can be disappointing, daunting, overwhelming, especially when you work so hard and it’s not quite there,” says VP Agor. “But with the journey that we’re on, it’s going to eventually be much more fluid and much more integrated.”

Want to read more of our education coverage from May 2012? Check out the links below.

Video Q&A with Don Horner and Kathryn Matayoshi

From Iolani School to Moanalua High School: A Parents’ Tale

Q&A: How is the DOE helping poor-performing schools?

Q&A: Why don't all public schools have midterms and final exam weeks?

Q&A: Why don't student representatives get a vote?

Q&A: What do schools have in place to ensure communication with parents?

Q&A: Kamehameha Schools Focuses on Public Schools Along the Waianae Coast


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