2016 Hawai‘i Private School Guide
Photo: Karen DB Photography
A Message From First Hawaiian Bank
Selecting where you want your child to go to school can be one of the most important decisions parents must make. What type of learning environment will help them best reach their full potential? What kinds of activities will they enjoy doing? We are fortunate in Hawai‘i to have many schools that offer nurturing and creative learning environments.
For families considering a private school education, First Hawaiian Bank has once again partnered with the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools and HONOLULU Magazine to bring you this special guide. We encourage you to use this valuable resource in your search for schools with the qualities that are most important to your family.
Education is the key that opens the doors to a world of opportunities. It has enhanced every aspect of our lives from scientific discoveries and medical cures to the latest in technology. As parents we want our children to learn skills that will prepare them well for a bright future. Building a strong foundation for lifelong learning will allow your child to adapt to new, emerging technologies in our rapidly changing world.
Sending your child to a private school is a personal family commitment. We invite you to come into any First Hawaiian branch to see how we may assist you in fulfilling your child’s dream.
Mahalo Nui Loa,
Your Child’s Education: The Most Important Decision
The Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) is proud to provide families with this informational guide about the private schools in our state. Our member schools join me in thanking First Hawaiian Bank for sponsoring the Private School Guide, and for its deep commitment to Hawai‘i’s children and their education.
Let me take a moment to introduce myself as I undertake the role of HAIS Executive Director following decades of excellent service provided by Mr. Robert Witt. I come to Hawai‘i after 40 years as a teacher, principal, and director of various international schools in Switzerland, Indonesia, Czech Republic, China, Cambodia, and, recently, Singapore. As a 21st century educator with a significant understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity, I believe I am well placed to contribute to your unique and vibrant environment.
Hawai‘i enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide for its independent schools. HAIS member schools offer students a rich selection of options. Our schools serve students with a variety of backgrounds, academic needs, and cultures. Almost all of our schools offer tuition assistance.
When looking for the “right fit” for your child, it’s important to research a number of schools and to visit them whenever possible. This guide will be of great support. In addition, feel free to call upon our experienced and knowledgeable team at HAIS should you need further assistance.
Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools (HAIS)
ALA MOANA PACIFIC CENTER
Each of Hawai‘i’s independent schools has its own unique culture. You can see it in diverse courses and activities, philosophies, environments and the ways in which students learn. So how, exactly, do schools define their culture and work it into the curriculum? We delve into five private schools, large and small, to get a feel for life on campus.
BY KATRINA VALCOURT
photo: karen db photography
When looking at private schools, a lot of people tend to focus on one question: Is this a good school where my child will thrive? But academics aren’t the only way to determine the best fit for each student. Every school feels different when you walk onto campus. Whether it’s because of the way the students conduct themselves, the types of projects they’re working on or the history of the place, a school’s culture gives you a sense of its philosophy and values. For instance, one school might be very academically driven, while another focuses on Hawaiian traditions and principles. One may emphasize religion, another highlights the arts. Education is not just about learning—schools play a huge part in shaping their students as people, too, and culture is an important aspect to consider when choosing the right fit for your child. We take a closer look at five independent schools carving their own niches.
There are only a few days left of school before summer break, but the freshmen, sophomores and especially juniors at Pacific Buddhist Academy aren’t ready to leave yet. There’s something they want first.
The entire student body, 70 kids, can fit in the school’s temple annex. They slowly filter in after lunch, but not before each student bows and drops his or her cell phone into a tote bag. Each student but one, who graduated the previous week and is back for a visit. You know the rules, a teacher tells her and, after some pouting and whining, she tries to sneak it in. But it’s not happening. She pouts some more and takes her seat.
The junior class stands at the front of the room and commands everyone’s attention with a boisterous chant that gets louder and more animated as people join in, a call to action that gets everyone rallied and ready to take part in a collaborative session addressing the problems of the school. The seniors are gone, they say. Now it’s our turn to run things.
Though Pacific Buddhist Academy is the first Shin Buddhist high school in the United States, if not for the adjoining temple and temple annex, you might not notice the religious affiliation. The core curriculum includes the basics: English, math, science, social studies. But it also offers Buddhist education. Buddhism provides the guiding principles behind the school’s mission statement of developing courage to nurture peace, but there’s no strict doctrine here. In fact, only 30 percent of the academy’s students identify with the religion. (Interestingly enough, that’s twice the percentage of parents who are Shin Buddhist.) There’s no requirement or expectation that students practice Buddhism.
But Buddhist values are apparent: In the school’s 13-year history, there have only been two fights. “It’s a safe school,” says Josh Hernandez Morse, the head of school, not only in terms of nonviolence, but also as a place where students can try new things and feel comfortable. Peace is only one facet of the school’s culture, an underlying principle that has been there since the beginning.
AT PACIFIC BUDDHIST ACADEMY, STUDENTS DECIDE WHAT TRADITIONS TO CREATE.
PHOTO: DAVID CROXFORD
The chant lasts a few minutes, eventually getting even the most timid students shouting along with their peers. Then everyone breaks into groups, based on areas they’d like to improve: trash, food, the school’s use of paper and plastic. Teachers are present, but only as facilitators.
“They want to inspire change,” Morse says of the students, and it’s almost surreal to see so many teenagers excited about how they can affect their community, especially with summer just around the corner. But this is their time, and they’re ready for it.
Pacific Buddhist Academy is fairly young in the world of Hawai‘i’s independent schools. While the students and faculty have been able to create their own culture from scratch, others began with a clear mission.
Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s will mandates that Kamehameha Schools shall “provide a good education in the common English branches (such as math, science, etc.), and also instruction in morals and in such useful knowledge as may tend to make good and industrious men and women; and I desire instruction in the higher branches to be subsidiary to the foregoing objects.” And students must show Hawaiian ancestry.
“The more you study Princess Pauahi, the more you understand how progressive and ahead of her time she was, and truly wise,” says Earl Kim, head of Kamehameha Schools Kapālama, which teaches more than 3,000 students. “My hope is that the principles we teach our students, the values that we imbue them with through the way in which we live our lives, allows them to apply them, transfer them, to whatever the world is that they go to beyond Kamehameha so they can create new understanding, so they can invent new things, so they can do engineering work, but with a different perspective.” Kim says the culture of Kamehameha is very different from other private schools because of its admissions preference given to orphan and indigent students and its mission to teach them to be servant leaders. And, though all students are of Hawaiian descent, they’re ethnically diverse and come from communities all over the world. He believes what makes a good school is not its test scores, championships won or commitment to post-secondary success, but its culture.
—Earl Kim, Kamehameha Schools
Kamehameha started as a kula Hawai‘i, a Hawaiian school, in 1887. But, over time, fewer and fewer students who came to the school could speak Hawaiian. “The role of the school has changed,” says Kim. “We take a generic curriculum like math with some set of content standards, and we marry that to cultural principles, and together they become what we call a transfer goal. Understanding doesn’t come unless there’s transfer.” One example of this is the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held earlier this year, where Kamehameha student Maveric Abella won the fourth-place award for cellular and molecular biology. She extracted DNA from native plants to determine whether or not they had anti-carcinogenic effects. “That was new learning that uses modern scientific techniques … yet it is based in a Hawaiian plant and cultural practitioners around Hawaiian healing,” Kim says, “so there’s that kind of blending occurring.”
Members of the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama High School Hawaiian Ensemble perform a hula dedicated to Princess Pauahi on Founder’s Day in 2014.
Photo: Courtesy of Kamehameha Schools
This is the core of Kamehameha’s approach. Incorporating tradition and cultural understanding in a contemporary environment with 21st-century skills improves students’ learning experiences and ability to retain information, while perpetuating native culture. You can see some of it in hula classes or the annual Song Contest, though it goes much deeper than what you witness in a performance. “I look at tradition—you know, we have petroglyphs on campus, ancient Hawaiian art forms, expressions of our belief systems when we were an ancient society. And we have [artist-in-residence] Carl Pao, we have [kumu hula] Kaleo Trinidad teaching kahiko, a traditional form of hula, and we have Erin Regua and her replacement teaching modern dancing. Those are new expressions of the same values and principles, adapted to a different context,” Kim says.
Sense of place, whether as an ancient Hawaiian concept or a Western idea, plays a huge role in developing students. “Our students feel more connected to this school and the faculty here than in many other places because, in order for our faculty to meet the expectations of a culture-based education, they really have to make that connection with individual students, know who they are, in order to reach them,” Kim says. “It comes from this sense of kula Hawai‘i and who we are as an institution.”
Students use 21st-century technology in ‘Iolani School’s Sullivan Center for Innovation and Leadership.
Photo: Courtesy of ‘Iolani School
Another school rooted in tradition is ‘Iolani. Founded in 1863 as an all-boys institution affiliated with the Episcopal Church, ‘Iolani went coed in 1979 and has grown to be one of the largest independent schools in the nation, with more than 1,900 students of any and all religious backgrounds.
But it feels dramatically different from Kamehameha, says Kim, whose son attended ‘Iolani because he did not meet the ethnic requirement of Kamehameha. ‘Iolani’s known primarily for its academics but also focuses on nurturing well-rounded, articulate, outgoing and diverse students who are part of a team—“One Team,” as its motto states.
“The phrase One Team … expresses the spirit of unselfish cooperation and mutual support among faculty, staff, coaches, parents and students,” says Cathy Lee Chong, director of communications for ‘Iolani School. “This spirit carries over to today’s teachers and students who understand and work to be collaborative because, in today’s world, almost everything people do hinges on other people’s actions.”
Bringing that culture of understanding and collaboration into the classroom and beyond while keeping students engaged requires thoughtful planning. One example of this is the One Mile Project, in which students learn about issues facing the elderly community within a 1-mile radius of the school. “Through a series of hands-on, collaborative, real-world experiences, students’ eyes are opened to the power of leading an empathetic life,” Chong says.
This focus on community values is apparent throughout the Sullivan Center for Innovation and Leadership, which opened in 2013. “At ‘Iolani, we have found that we can remain committed to the principles that laid the foundation for our school in its earliest days while updating our coursework and programs with the technology of today,” Chong says. “To truly create well-rounded students, we must expose them to all the amazing resources that our digital age provides them.” That means each student gets an iPad, which in itself teaches responsibility while providing a useful tool.
Courses at the Sullivan Center, besides the One Mile Project, include Hospice, Video Game Design, Robotics and Applied Renewable Energy Systems, where students study the use of regional biomass products and construct energy-conversion units. Some have even traveled to the Big Island to study natural energy sources firsthand. “We believe that this kind of partnership between all members of the ‘Iolani community means brighter futures for all our students,” Chong says.
Students work in the LEED-certified Energy Lab at Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy on the Big Island.
Photo: courtesy of patrick o’leary
At Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy’s Energy Lab in Kamuela, the culture of sustainability isn’t just worked into the curriculum, it’s in the walls. There are sensors that monitor carbon dioxide levels, triggering louvers to automatically open when they get too high. Instead of air conditioning, wind, water and soy insulation cool the building. There’s a water catchment system that collects 390 gallons of water for every inch of rain. None of the building materials, or even the laptops students use, are allowed to contain any environmentally harmful materials. Conceived to study and implement renewable-energy technologies, the lab received LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certification in 2011. And while it is a model for what 21st-century buildings could be, it’s also equipped for the everyday needs of classes, projects and conferences.
Jessica Ainslie originally signed up to take classes in the Energy Lab because she didn’t want to take a physics course. But even though she recently graduated from Hawai‘i Prep, she interns at the lab to continue working on projects over the summer. “I just had two conference calls, and I’m only 17!” she says, and credits the school for teaching her the professionalism needed to handle such a daunting real-world task. “At HPA, it’s cool to be smart,” which pushed her to work hard instead of just get by. Every one of the 623 students on campus is so passionate, she says. Ainslie was awarded the Alumni Association Award and the Ben Dillingham U.S. History Award her senior year.
The Energy Lab at Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy is high tech.
photo: courtesy of patrick o’leary
Sustainability seems a natural topic on the Big Island. Here, observatories have been warning of global warming for decades and natural resources abound, so it makes sense that it plays such a prominent role in Hawai‘i Prep’s programs. But a school’s culture is defined by more than what it teaches. Sometimes it’s not about academics at all.
High school students from Ho‘āla working in Kōke‘e, Kaua‘i.
photo: courtesy of ho‘āla school
Wahiawā’s Ho‘āla School cultivates an environment in which the social and emotional well-being of its students leads to their academic success. This philosophy, revolving around character, stems from the work of psychologists Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs, who supposed that everyone wants two things. “Children need to have experiences of a sense of significance as well as experiencing a sense of belonging,” explains Linda Perry, head of Ho‘āla School. “This happens by integrating encouragement versus praise, adults listening to children rather than directing them or solving problems for them, and giving children opportunities to contribute instead of doing for them.” Ho‘āla nurtures these feelings through its classroom culture and teaching styles, not necessarily curriculum, to develop the child as a whole.
The idea is that when students feel like what they’re doing is important and they are part of a community, they gain confidence and are able to work independently, finding gratification in what they do without relying on external validation from others. Ho‘āla (Hawaiian for “awakening of the self”) keeps students on track through its agreement system, which won the Promising Practices Award from the Character Education Partnership in 2012. “It’s based on children knowing the consequences of their choices before they make a choice,” Perry says. If an agreement is broken—for instance, a student is disruptive—he or she may be asked to leave the classroom until the period ends. “That way, the student can no longer affect others’ learning [or] the teacher’s teaching.” It’s not a scolding but a way for students to learn how to make things right, without assigning blame. And, often, talking through the problem with a teacher leads to the student solving it, fostering independence.
It can be difficult to trust students as they make what we see as negative choices, especially if you’re a parent who just wants your child to succeed, but Perry, whose own son attended Ho‘āla from kindergarten through 12th grade, has faith in the system and its more than 30 years of tried-and-true methods. As much as you may want to coddle your keiki when they get a bad grade or give them money for straight A’s, that behavior can be counterproductive to their development and the culture the school fosters. It’s about who you are, not what you do. Perry says it really comes down to the family’s willingness to adopt these same practices and beliefs outside of school so kids aren’t getting conflicting messages at home. Ho‘āla holds Parent Support Series twice a year to get everyone on the same page, especially with new students from all over the world (many from military families) joining at different ages (only 8 to 10 percent of students attend all of K–12). It’s a small school—fewer than 100 students are currently enrolled—but Perry also teaches a course on Democratic Parenting in UH’s Family Resources department, extending the school’s culture beyond campus.
Even though each school differs considerably from the others, they all have strong ideas of what their cultures are, especially when drawing on traditions. You can get a sense of what that culture is through talking with admissions directors and heads of schools, but the best way to understand it is to experience it for yourself. “Walk onto ‘Iolani’s campus during the daytime. Walk onto Kamehameha’s campus. I’ve taken visitors from New Jersey around to see schools, and they’d remark on the palpable difference in feeling they get when they’re here,” Kamehameha’s Kim says. “So you can actually feel it, I think.”
The Timeline: Applying to Private School
Thinking about private school for your child? Finding the right school for your child and getting her or him enrolled can take at least a year. Here is a 12-month timeline to make sure you don’t miss a crucial deadline along the way.
Start Your Search
Most schools advise parents to start at least a year in advance. By August, start a list of potential schools for the next school year. Off the top of your head, you might be able to come up with three or four schools. But there are 118 private schools in Hawai‘i. For a quick overview, see our comprehensive guide to Hawai‘i private schools.
If you’re really planning ahead, you should know there are certain windows of opportunity in the private-school application process of which you’ll want to take advantage. Kindergarten is obviously a time when schools take in a lot of new students. Sixth grade is a major entry point and, if you’re interested in high school, ninth grade is the easiest time to enter. However, many independent schools take students throughout the year, at any grade level, as long as the school’s classes are not full. This is known as rolling admission. Be sure to check with the schools in which you’re interested to find out their major entry points.
Make Some Serious Selections
By September, begin gathering material. Most schools are glad to mail you catalogs, applications and other materials. At this stage, there’s no such thing as doing too much research. Check the schools’ websites, and the site of the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools (hais.org). To help focus your thinking, you can use our “14 Things to Look For in a Private School” guide.
One way to take a look at many private schools at the same time is to attend one of the three HAIS School Fairs. All three fairs are for prospective students from preschool through 12th grade. The first fair will be held on Saturday, Sept. 26, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Japanese Cultural Center in Honolulu; the second will be on Tuesday, Sept. 29, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Pearl Country Club; the third will be held on Thursday, Oct. 1, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at the Ko‘olau Ballrooms in Kāne‘ohe. Each fair will include breakout sessions on applying to an independent school and financing their education. For more information, call 973-1540 or visit hais.org.
Take a School Tour
By October, you should have narrowed your list of prospective schools. To how many should you apply? The consensus of most admissions directors is five. That should leave you with plenty of choices when the acceptance letters come in.
With your short list, you can start looking into specific school-admissions and financial-aid requirements. Don’t wait too long, especially if you are interested in kindergarten. Some schools have early kindergarten application deadlines. For instance, Punahou’s is Oct. 15, ‘Iolani’s, Oct. 30. For kindergarten applications, most schools require: 1) teacher references, 2) testing, usually done by the school itself, and 3) an activity session and observation.
In general, fall is the season for schools’ open houses. Check with each school to find out specific dates and try to attend. You’ll get lots of advice from other people, but, remember, you want to know whether a school fits your child, not someone else’s. There’s no substitute for firsthand knowledge, so go, and take your child, if possible.
In addition to open houses, check whether the schools in which you’re interested allow prospective students to spend a day on campus. Some schools don’t give this option until a student is admitted, but it never hurts to ask.
If you are aiming for fifth grade or above, your child will probably need to take the Secondary School Admission Test, the SSAT. The test includes math and verbal skills, reading comprehension and a writing sample. Check with specific schools, but your child will likely be required to take the SSAT in the fall.
SSAT tests are administered at ‘Iolani, Maryknoll, Punahou, Saint Louis, St. Andrew’s Priory, Island Pacific Academy, Le Jardin Academy, Hanalani and Trinity Lutheran of Wahiawā on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy on the Big Island, and Aka‘ula School on Moloka‘i.
You can get information at ssat.org or by calling (609) 683-4440 (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Eastern time). Registration is done online, closes three weeks before each test date and costs $124. Late registration (available online only) is open for one week after regular registration closes, and costs $40 more; after that, rush registration is $80 more, and is available until three days before the test date. Walk-in and standby testing options are not offered.
If your child does not have much experience with tests such as the SSAT, you might want to provide some kind of practice beforehand. There are numerous preparation options, from the official study guide available at ssat.org to formal tutoring with diagnostic testing. It’s also possible to take the test a year in advance, without sending the scores to a school; check with specific schools about their requirements. Additionally, some schools accept more than one set of SSAT results; again, check with each school.
Mail Your Application
By the end of December or early January, you’ll have completed and mailed your applications. But, remember, deadlines range from October (usually for kindergarten) to late February. You’ll want to create your own calendar to keep track of what’s due and when.
Inquire About Financial Aid
It’s easy to get caught up in the application process, but don’t forget to ask about the financial-aid process. Forty-three Hawai‘i private schools will require you to complete what are called the SSS (School and Student Service) Financial Aid forms. While the form is the same, the schools establish their own due dates, which can be from December to April. Since most financial-aid forms are due before April 15, you’ll need to send a copy of your tax return, usually required later.
For families applying to Catholic schools, another source of aid may be the Augustine Educational Foundation. For more on the group, see augustinefoundation.org. Aid applications are available online at the foundation’s website and from all Hawai‘i Catholic-school offices in mid-January. Applications must be returned by the middle of March. There are other aid sources for Catholic-school students as well.
After you submit your application forms and perhaps your financial-aid packet, you’ll have a little time to collect supplemental materials, such as transcripts and teacher recommendations. Most schools use a common recommendation form created by HAIS, copies of which are available on the HAIS website. In addition, if your child is an athlete, get a letter from his or her coach. A musician? Then the band leader or music teacher. Your child does volunteer work? Get a letter from the organization. Make it as easy as possible for these people to help you. Give them stamped, addressed envelopes. Remember to check with the school to make sure the materials have arrived.
The Interview Process
Virtually all schools will then schedule an interview with your child. Try to remind your child to take the interview seriously, without making him or her too nervous to talk. If your child is applying for sixth grade or above, the school may schedule a writing exercise on the same day as the interview. Although schools take the writing sample seriously, there is no need to hire a tutoring agency to prep your child.
Many schools like to interview parents as well. Here’s the catch: They won’t call it an interview. If you’re told, for instance, that you can schedule a meeting with the admissions director to discuss the admissions process, by all means do so. If an admissions officer says, “Why don’t we just sit down and talk while your child finishes up the interview or the writing sample?” make no mistake: That’s an interview. Your best strategy is to talk honestly about what you want for your child. Again, remember to relax. You are talking to an admissions director, not a dean of rejection; the person sitting across from you is genuinely interested in your child.
The Waiting Period
Once your application process is complete, the best thing to do is sit back and relax. You’re going to need a little patience. Admissions offices across the state are going through huge stacks of folders and need time to make good decisions.
Around this time, schools make their decisions and send notifications to parents. Even though there is no standard date for schools to mail out acceptances, expect to receive a letter on or around the school’s reply date. If a school’s reply date is April 15, expect to receive a notification on April 15, so don’t drive yourself crazy hanging out at the mailbox.
The Final Decision
If your child is accepted to more than one school (probable if you’ve applied to four or five), now is the time to arrange formal campus visits, if you have not done this earlier. The best is a whole day in which your child can visit a school, sit in on classes and meet other students. This is also a good time to listen to your child about which schools feel most comfortable.
You’re Almost Done
There’s one more step after your child is admitted. You have to say yes—usually in the form of a check for several hundred dollars. You don’t want to send money to one school while still considering others, so it’s best if they all have the same decision day. For most HAIS schools, the common-reply day, as it’s called, is April 15 (sixth through 12th grades) and May 10 (kindergarten through fifth grades), but not all schools honor these deadlines.
As soon as you’ve settled on a school, don’t forget to check if summer school is required for new students. Some schools make it mandatory for all new enrollees; some recommend it, while requiring it for only certain students; and some only encourage it. It can be a good orientation to a new school.
If You’re Wait Listed
Some students may be placed on a waiting list. Find out whether attending summer school can help their chances. Usually by mid- to late summer, wait-listed students are notified of their status. With most schools, wait lists are not continued from year to year.
You did it!
Celebrate your child’s new place in a private school.
SSAT Dates for 2015 and 2016
Oct. 17, 2015
Feb. 6, 2016
Nov. 14, 2015
March 5, 2016
Dec. 12, 2015
April 23, 2016
Jan. 9, 2016
June 11, 2016
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU’VE MISSED THE REGULAR DEADLINES?
So you’ve missed the deadline to apply to a private school. Maybe you’re a military family and you’ve arrived in the Islands after a school’s application deadline. Is all hope lost? In this economy, the answer is, probably not. While some schools adhere to strict deadlines, many schools allow students to apply throughout the year.
“Pacific Buddhist Academy uses a rolling admissions process, which means there are not strict deadlines,” says Pacific Buddhist Academy head of school Joshua Hernandez Morse. “We would certainly hope to coordinate a timeline with prospective families if they anticipate there might be delays in the application process, but we have processed and admitted candidates from other countries, for example, by including a Skype interview.”
But what should you do if you’ve missed a hard deadline? Contact the school’s admissions office to explain any extenuating circumstances or inquire on open spaces.
“It really depends on when in the year it is. We try to be sensitive and flexible to late applicants,” explains ‘Iolani School director of admissions Kelly Monaco. The difficulty of creating an entire class from scratch often makes for strict kindergarten deadlines, but some schools looking to fill open spaces in other grade levels may be able to accommodate late applications. It can’t hurt to check with the school’s admissions office.
What Does Accreditation Mean for Your Child?
More than seals and acronyms, accreditation is an important factor in choosing the right school.
“When a parent applies to an accredited school, he or she knows the school has undergone a rigorous look at itself and has been approved by fellow professionals and an external accrediting agency,” says new executive director of HAIS Robert Landau, who has worked around the world in accreditation since 1981. “To be honest, there are excellent schools that are not accredited, but I am a strong believer in the process and think accreditation is an important indicator of excellence,” he says.
In Hawai‘i, the largest accreditors are HAIS and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which work together with other organizations, including Hawai‘i Catholic Schools, to accredit private institutions here.
Accreditation is more than a rubber stamp of approval: It means “a school has undertaken a commitment to a process that involves a wide variety of people from administrators to board members, to community members to teachers, parents and students,” says Landau. Called the “self-study” process, accrediting a school means rigorous examination of facilities, curricula, health, safety, governance and finances.
This is no one-time exam. Rather, “accreditation implies a school wants to know where it can improve, what areas are in need of strengthening. Accreditation is a journey that never ends,” says Landau, “so, every few years, the school is required to provide updated information, respond to previous recommendations and demonstrate a strategic approach to the school’s development.”
A seal of accreditation signifies an examination of the comprehensive educational experience at a school. “I have seen many agencies move from more of a checklist approach to a standards-based model where evidence of student learning and understanding is more important than resources or facilities,” he adds. This is useful for thinking ahead about college application as well. “I always told my parent body that it was best to apply for college from an accredited school. After all, colleges and universities are accredited, too. They know, understand, and appreciate the importance and value of the accreditation process,” he says.
How do you know if the schools to which you’re applying are accredited or not? See our comprehensive Guide to Hawai‘i Private Schools, including accreditations. To help you navigate the acronyms, here’s a list of primary ones:
AACS: American Association of Christian Schools. National Christian accreditation body with member schools in all but four states. aacs.org
ACSI: Association of Christian Schools International. Recognized by the National Council for Private School Accreditation. Accredits Christian schools from kindergarten through the 12th grade. acsi.org
AMS: American Montessori Society. amshq.org
AWSNA: Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. whywaldorfworks.org
HAIS: Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools. Local umbrella organization that is part of the National Association of Independent Schools. hais.org
NADCA: North American Division Commission on Accreditation. Seventh-day Adventist accreditation organization. nadeducation.org
NAEYC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. National association of early childhood educators. Accredits preschool through third-grade programs, including childcare and before- and after-school programs. naeyc.org
NLSA: National Lutheran School Accreditation. Nationwide accrediting body for Lutheran schools.
WASC: Western Association of Schools and Colleges. One of six regional accrediting associations for schools and colleges. WASC covers California, Hawai‘i, other Pacific Basin areas and East Asia. acswasc.org
WCEA: Western Catholic Education Association. Accredits Hawai‘i Catholic schools. westwcea.org
14 Things to Look For in a Private School
What are you looking for?
You and your child will want a clear idea of exactly what you’re looking for in a private school before you begin the search. Here are some general areas you might consider.
Has the school been approved by a recognized accrediting body?
What’s the tuition? What about other costs? Are there general fees? How much are books, other activity fees, general student costs?
3. Before- and After-School Programs
Can younger children be dropped off before, or stay after, regular school hours?
4. College Acceptance Rate
How many of the school’s graduates go on to higher education? What’s the college counseling department like at the school?
Are there advanced-placement or international-baccalaureate classes? Does the school have co-curricular, athletic, art, music and drama programs? Is a specific educational program followed, such as the Montessori or Waldorf method? How about year-round, block or modular scheduling?
6. Entry Points
The most common entry points are preschool/kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades; however, each school’s entry points vary. Do many children transfer into the school at a certain grade? Are there ages at which the school does not accept new students?
7. Extracurricular Activities
Is there a variety of extracurricular activities? Sports teams, a drama club, a school newspaper? How about opportunities for community service?
8. Financial Aid
Is financial aid offered? How many students benefit from financial-aid programs? When must you apply?
How long will your morning commute be? What is the physical campus like?
10. Mission and Philosophy
Have you looked over the school’s mission statement and seen how it is incorporated into the school? Why was the school founded and how has its mission changed over the years?
Do you want a coeducational school or an all-boys or all-girls school? Which would work best for your child?
12. Religious Affiliation
Does the school have religious ties? Is it independently governed or overseen by a church organization?
How difficult is it to gain admission into the school? If you apply to selective schools, make sure to apply to several.
What’s the total school size? Class size? Student-to-teacher ratio? How does the school fit with what you know about your child?
How to Ace the Interview
The last, and often most dreaded, step of the application process is one that only your child can do: the personal interview.
For parents or guardians, school admissions interviews can be an intimidating mystery. What do schools measure when asking the nebulous question: Is this child a good fit?
Most schools speak of a “good fit,” but what does this mean for your child? Should they know how to read or do advanced mathematics? Play an instrument? Pua Fernandez, director of admissions at Kamehameha Schools’ Kapālama campus, and Kelly Monaco, director of admissions at ‘Iolani School, let us in on the thinking behind the interview process.
“Most schools look for students who will be positive contributors to their student body,” says Fernandez, citing character, academics and interests.
Schools examine applicants holistically, with particular attention to youngsters’ abilities and potentials. “We’re not looking for the most advanced kids,” says Monaco. “We don’t expect a child to read or do mathematics, although some can. We are looking for readiness.”
What schools focus on also depends on grade level. “Interviews for applicants to grades six through nine are designed to get to know the applicants, their interests, ideas, communication skills, characters, etc.,” says Fernandez.
While interviews with older applicants may explore established characteristics, Fernandez says, “Observations for kindergarten are a little different. We simulate
a ‘typical’ kindergarten day and we are looking at social skills, classroom readiness skills, creativity and problem-solving.”
In the end, this is only one part of the application, providing crucial perspective not visible on paper. “It is the only personal contact we have with the applicants in the process,” says Fernandez.
1. Read to your child, as this helps build imagination and vocabulary.
2. Ask lots of questions and let your child respond. This builds communication skills.
3. Explain to your child what will happen during the interview. Be straightforward with older children that this is an interview, but “For younger children,” such as kindergarten applicants, “we advise parents to simply tell their child that they are going to play games with a teacher to see if this is a good school for them,” says Fernandez.
4. On interview day, don’t overdress your child in uncomfortable shoes or clothes. “We tell parents that their children should dress neatly, but comfortably,” says Fernandez.
5. As much as possible, have your child get a goodnight’s sleep.
6. The day of the interview, be sure your child eats a good breakfast.
7. Your attitude the morning of the interview will affect your child’s stress level, so make the school visit a fun adventure. Keep your own anxiety in check and do not worry your child unnecessarily. “For young children, if it’s a new environment, we encourage parents to bring their child to campus beforehand to get comfortable,” says Ella Browning, director of admissions at Mid-Pacific Institute.
8. Prepare your child—and yourself—for the possibility of rejection. Keep your disappointment in perspective. “The anxiety around applying to schools is very high because parents perceive choices to be limited, but, in fact, there are many great schools here in Hawai‘i,” says Monaco. Buying into a win/lose mindset can be harmful for you and your child. Remember that there are many different roads to success and a kindergarten rejection is not likely to dictate your child’s future.
9. If significant changes (i.e., family emergencies, unexpected events) occur, communicate with the admissions office.
10. Tutoring for kindergarten is not recommended; instead, focus on home development. “It’s about the social-emotional readiness. If you can’t work with someone, take directions, or collaborate … ” says Browning. In fact, most preschools already cover what admissions committees are measuring in applicants.
11. Be clear on your own family values and do not let the admissions process drive what you do as a family, says Monaco. If in doubt about something, call the admissions office.
12. You should not have to pay for reference reports or recommendation letters. “I have never heard of a teacher or administrator requesting compensation to provide a reference,” says Fernandez.
Financial Aid FAQs
Commonly asked questions about financial aid.
Q. Who should apply for financial aid?
A. Schools encourage all families in need to apply for financial assistance. Families should first evaluate their resources, maximize their earnings, alter spending habits and carefully manage their assets before applying for financial aid. One way to help gauge your need: If, after adjusting your finances, you still can’t set aside 10 percent of the school’s tuition per month for 10 months, you might be a candidate for financial aid.
Q. Is there a cutoff income amount to qualify for financial aid?
A. No. Income is just one of many factors that are considered when calculating need. The School and Students Service by NAIS (SSS) uses a formula accepted nationally among independent schools to analyze need and the family’s ability to contribute to educational expenses. There is no preset income amount that qualifies a family for financial aid. Various factors are considered, including assets, debt, family size, the number of children attending tuition-charging schools or colleges, even the responsibilities of caring for an elderly family member. Still wondering whether it’s realistic to apply? It may be helpful to visit finaid.org/calculators/finaidestimate.phtml. Enter your basic financial data and it will calculate an estimate of how much your family could be expected to contribute toward tuition.
Q. Can my child apply for academic, athletic or musical scholarships?
A. While financial aid is based on demonstrated financial need, there are some schools—St. Andrew’s Priory School and Damien Memorial School, for example—that offer merit-based scholarships. Check with each school, as many scholarships are both merit- and need-based and will not be awarded to families who can afford the full tuition.
Q. What if my children are enrolled at different tuition-charging institutions?
A. In order to receive financial aid from one school, it is recommended that you apply for aid from all the schools your children attend. Other private-school tuitions you pay will then be factored into your financial-aid package.
Q. Will applying for financial aid affect my child’s prospects of admission?
A. No. Admission and financial-aid decisions are completely separate.
Q. How early should we file our tax returns?
A. As early as possible. According to the Internal Revenue Service, W-2s and 1099s should be received by Jan. 31. Financial-aid deadlines for new students are often in February, and copies of your completed tax returns are required.
Q. What if I miss the deadline to apply for financial aid?
A. Although it’s never too late to apply for financial aid, funds are limited and may not be available to those who apply late. To receive the maximum benefit, parents are encouraged to meet the application deadlines. Pay close attention, as financial-aid application deadlines for incoming and returning students differ.
Q. Will my child’s financial-aid award change from year to year? What if our income changes?
A. You must reapply for financial aid every year, as it is recalculated using current information. Financial-aid offices take into account any changes, both gains and losses, and adjust the previous year’s award accordingly. Generally, if there is little or no change in your family’s circumstances, you can expect the award to stay at about the same level. Significant changes should be explained either in writing or in person to the financial-aid office so that the school can offer aid that considers the whole picture.
Also note that financial-aid awards may be affected by the total funds budgeted and the number of applicants. But don’t be alarmed. Schools are doing everything they can to try to accommodate families’ requests; in fact, even as schools are seeing increases in financial-aid applications, some schools have increased their financial-aid budgets.
Q. If the parents are divorced, do both of them still have to provide information?
A. Yes. Each biological parent must submit a separate financial-aid application. If either parent has remarried, most schools require the income of stepparents to be included.
Q. What if one parent is not legally responsible for supporting the child’s education?
A. A copy of the divorce decree verifying this arrangement needs to be submitted to the school. If a biological parent cannot be located, submit documentation from an official source, such as an attorney, a family doctor, clergy, a social worker or an employer.
Q. Will we have to repay any financial aid we receive?
A. No. Financial aid is like a grant, not a loan, and need not be repaid.
Q. What are the main reasons financial aid is denied?
A. A family may have resources that disqualify them, or may have submitted too little information.
Q. Is there an appeals process?
A. Yes. To appeal a decision, you have to submit a written letter to the financial-aid committee explaining why it should reconsider. You might need to provide additional documents to support the appeal. If new or unknown circumstances are indicated on the family’s application, the school might be able to make adjustments to its offer.
Explore Your Potential New Campus
Get a real sense of your child’s private-school options by digging deep into a campus visit.
Do some pre-visit research. Read up on the school’s history. Look at a campus map on the school’s website, so you know which classrooms, facilities or departments you and your child particularly want to see.
Whenever possible, visit the campus during a normal school day. Weekend open houses are fine, but you’ll also want to see what a typical school schedule is like. “We want families to see the life of the school on a school day,” says Mid-Pacific Institute’s director of admissions Ella Browning. “It really helps students and families see if this is a good fit.” If that means taking some time off work, remember this is one of the biggest investments you’ll make for your child.
Make sure to talk to students and faculty while on your visit. The more perspectives you can get, the better.
Deviate from the standard tour. Once you’ve been given the official guided tour, ask if you can explore on your own.
Many schools offer shadow-a-student days for admitted or interested students. Your child can interact with students and teachers and measure firsthand the academic load offered by the school.
Common Myths About Private School Admission
There are some persistent myths surrounding the admissions process. We checked out a few of them with the schools themselves.
My friend’s child has been “wait-listed,” but is first in line.
“We call it a ‘wait-pool.’ We do not rank,” says Ella Browning, director of admissions at Mid-Pacific Institute. In almost all cases, this is a wait-pool of qualified and diverse students applying to a competitive and space-limited school. “When a space opens, we look at building a learning community at every level. We ask, ‘Who in this pool would complement or add to this community that we’re creating?’” Rather than using a ranked list, schools focus on individuals’ qualities and characteristics. “We do literally look at everybody again,” says Browning.
If I send my child to a “feeder school,” there will automatically be a better chance of admission.
“Every school is a feeder school,” says Browning. “We always end up taking kids from a lot of schools. It’s about a balance of kids from different philosophies and experiences.” While some preschools may be more aligned with certain K–12 institutions, schools holistically review applicants on their own merits and admit them from a wide variety of preschools. “We like to take a range of diversity in programs and school cultures,” says Browning.
At certain schools, reading is a must before kindergarten admission.
Nope. Nowhere is reading a prerequisite for kindergarten entry. Pua Fernandez, director of admissions at Kamehameha Schools’ Kapālama campus says, “No. We do not expect children to be reading at age 4. However, we do look for exposure to the alphabet.”
If my child doesn’t get in at kindergarten, he or she will never get in.
Independent K–12 schools tend to admit the majority of their graduating classes long after kindergarten. For example, Kamehameha Schools may be Hawai‘i’s largest independent school, graduating 714 seniors annually, but it starts with a class of around 160 kindergarten students, meaning the vast majority of students are admitted in other grade levels. There are “multiple entry points and, each time a student applies, it is a ‘fresh start,’” meaning that previous test scores and interviews are not considered, says Fernandez, of Kamehameha Schools.
If you’re not well-connected, wealthy or an alumnus, you can forget about applying.
Diversity of the student body—socioeconomic, geographical, cultural and otherwise—is a big priority at many private schools. Admissions officers keep their eyes out for students from a wide range of backgrounds, particularly those who don’t fit the stereotypical (and outdated) private-school profile.
Admissions directors make all the decisions.
Especially at a big school, admissions decisions are usually made by a committee, not a single person. Admissions directors are, however, the people whose job it is to get to know, and answer questions for, families of prospective students. They’re the folks who want to talk to you; take advantage of that.
Submitting the application right before the deadline means my child's assessment or group session will be scheduled later, giving her or him a developmental advantage over younger kids who were tested earlier.
Most schools schedule assessments according to the age of the applicant, not when their application is received. Or, “for individual testing, those are adjusted for the exact age of the child on that very day of testing,” says Kelly Monaco, director of admissions at ‘Iolani School. Applying later may not only be futile, it could potentially mean there are fewer open spaces or that your child is now expected to be even more developed.