2017 Hawai‘i Private School Guide

(Sponsored) Find out what sets Hawai‘i private schools apart. Our Private School Guide has become the trusted resource for parents trying to find the best fit for their child’s education. Learn about the unique culture, classes and philosophies of some of Hawai‘i’s schools.
Photo: Aaron Yoshino



A Message From First Hawaiian Bank 

Education is the key that opens doors to a world of possibilities. That’s why selecting a school for your child is one of the most important decisions parents must make. We all want learning environments that will help our kids reach their full potential. Fortunately, here in Hawai‘i we have many schools that offer nurturing and creative learning environments.


Sending your child to a private school is a personal family commitment and one that requires careful consideration. To help you get started on finding a school with the qualities that are most important to your family, First Hawaiian Bank has once again partnered with the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools and HONOLULU Magazine to bring you this special Private School Guide. We encourage you to use this valuable resource to explore how a school can turn your child into a lifelong learner with the skills and knowledge to tackle the opportunities ahead.


At First Hawaiian Bank, we are here to help you achieve the important milestones in your life. If private school is one of your life’s milestones, we invite you to come into any First Hawaiian branch to see how we may partner with you in fulfilling your child’s dream.


Mahalo nui loa,

Bob Harrison

Chairman & CEO
First Hawaiian Bank 





Your Child’s Education, a World of Possibilities 

The Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) is proud to provide families and our community with this informational guide featuring the private schools in the 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 future. I would also like to thank HONOLULU Magazine for its commendable collaboration, insight and professionalism.


The title of this letter, “Your Child’s Education, A World of Possibilities,” is a reflection on my first year as executive director at HAIS. Having visited more than 40 member schools on O‘ahu, Maui, Kaua‘i, and Hawai‘i Island has afforded me the opportunity to experience the variety of exceptional schools striving for excellence in our state. It is clear that HAIS member schools excel at helping children achieve personal and academic success by providing unique and exceptional learning environments. 


The benefits of independent schools in Hawai‘i are numerous: 

  •  Tuition fees are well below those of many other states;

  • Most schools offer financial assistance or scholarships;

  • Class sizes are generally smaller, with lower adult-to-student ratios;

  • Schools are able to offer relevant curriculum and programs, constantly responding to a rapidly changing world.

The vision statement of HAIS asks us to “support member schools, and other organizations, in preparing all students for the challenges of life and social responsibility.” Besides contributing to the Private School Guide, HAIS provides schools with professional development opportunities; three annual conferences; a reflective and rigorous accreditation process; a global issues student leadership program; an informative education fair; and much more. 


We encourage you to visit our website at www.hais.us, email us at info@hais.us or call (808) 973–1540 for more information on HAIS member schools, our services, programs and other valuable resources.



Robert Landau

Executive Director, 
Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) 

1585 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 1212; Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96814-4527
(808) 973-1540 | Email: info@hais.us | www.hais.us 




Re-Imagining Schools 

Many independent schools in Hawai‘i and across the nation are rejecting traditional teaching styles to focus on new skills and project-based learning. Some parents worry this shift away from standard methods and tests puts students’ chances of getting into good colleges at risk. But educators say today’s constantly changing, technology-driven society requires different skills to survive college and beyond. Here’s how. 

By Katrina Valcourt 
Photos: Aaron Yoshino, David Croxford


Look into private-school classrooms across the state and, instead of rows of desks facing the teacher and chalkboards, you’ll see collaborative work stations and high-tech projectors. Instead of textbooks, some classes have iPads. For some, the classroom is a garden.


More schools are evolving, pushing the boundaries of what it means to educate, forgoing standard class periods centered on one subject for a more holistic approach. They’re adopting a new normal that increases the importance of passion, morals, service to others and 21st-century skills such as creativity.


But wait—creativity isn’t on the SAT.


With college degrees still important, is this shift adequately preparing students for the admissions process? Or is it sabotaging their chances of getting into a good school?


At Sacred Hearts Academy, a few fourth-grade girls sit on the floor, tablets in hand, racing small blue robots across the room. Two gadgets smack into each other, setting off sirens, and the girls giggle. Others use plastic pieces to make headbands. For now they’re just playing, but soon, they’ll start working on a simple robot that can pick up, transport and stack objects for this year’s VEX IQ Challenge. It’s a game called Crossover and, to beat it, the girls will have to think critically and creatively, communicate their ideas and know how to collaborate—what educators call The Four C’s, some of the most important 21st-century skills.


But “21st century” is misleading. After all, humans have had to utilize these skills for thousands of years just to survive. Until recently, though, schools haven’t focused on leadership, adaptability, initiative or social skills as heavily as they have math, English, history and science. Education is going through what the MacArthur Foundation refers to as “The Big Shifts,” which include going from knowing to doing, from teacher-centered to student-centered, from the individual to the team.



“In the beginning there was a lot of hype about 21st-century learning, and parents did raise questions about it,” says Mary Girard, dean of faculty for grades 7–12 at Sacred Hearts. “Teachers were concerned about it because they had all this content they wanted to make sure students got, and so it’s been a process of learning to teach that, but usually what students are doing [now] is much more authentic learning, and it stays with them more.”


Sacred Hearts started shifting its teaching style, along with 17 other schools, in 2009, under Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s Schools of the Future grant, which focused on bringing 21st-century skills into the classroom over a five-year period.


“Anytime you make changes, it’s something that is very difficult to accept,” says Winston Sakurai, upper-school principal at Hanalani Schools, which also received money from the grant. “There was a lot of success at the school before, so it wasn’t like things were really broken, per se. Students were getting into college, students were doing well in different professions, so, when the changes came about, it was very important to try to educate the faculty about how things were different in the world.”


Parents’ trepidation is an issue Ted Dintersmith encountered when producing the film Most Likely to Succeed, which uses examples from High Tech High in California to show what the future of education looks like. But some parents weren’t sure how the projects kids were doing were preparing them for the real world. “Parents desperately want good things for their kids,” Dintersmith says, but, “What do you mean, great things for your kid?” Many parents say that, ultimately, they just want their children to be happy. But there’s a “massive disconnect,” he says, between that sentiment and what is really happening in schools, including extracurricular activities that may look good on college applications but are overly tough for kids. By the time they get to college, the statistics are staggering: In the fall of 2015 American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment II, 85.1 percent of students “felt overwhelmed” by all they had to do at some point in the past 12 months; 47.8 percent “felt things were hopeless”; and 35.3 percent “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.” On top of that, nonmedical usage of Adderall (a prescription drug that stimulates the central nervous system, commonly used to treat ADHD) rose 67 percent from 2006 to 2011, presumably as a study aid, with 60 percent of users (above age 12) being 18 to 25, according to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. “Is that consistent with the goal for your child to be happy? No.


“College has actually very little to do with life,” Dintersmith says. “Getting that college degree can be prohibitively expensive and really isn’t advancing [kids’] ability to make a difference in the world.” If getting into college means having to take rigorous AP courses, SAT prep beginning in elementary school, after-school tutoring, clubs and athletics, just for a degree that doesn’t guarantee a job—7.2 percent of recent college grads are unemployed, and 44 percent have low-wage, dead-end jobs—is all of that really worth it?


Well, those with a bachelor’s degree earned 62 percent more than high-school graduates in 2015, despite only 11 percent of business leaders strongly believing that college grads have the skills and competencies required for their businesses. “So there’s this gaping disconnect,” Dintersmith says. “The more we find ourselves in a world where you can evaluate people with authentic examples of their work instead of indirect proxies, the more we’re going to start aligning what we can do in school with what skills kids need … then people will get good at things that are actually useful in life.”


At Island Pacific Academy, students take part in Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Program, which utilizes virtual reality.
Photo: Courtesy of Island Pacific Academy


For hundreds of years, teachers were expected to be experts, interpreting knowledge, vetting opinions and translating information that students wouldn’t have access to without them. That didn’t really change much until Generation Z, starting with those born in the mid-’90s, who grew up connected to a stream of accessible information with Google and iPhones in their pockets. For the first time in history, everything that once lived only in libraries and textbooks was available to teachers and students with the touch of a button. Because of that, teachers have gone from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.”


“Digital technology has changed the landscape because it means there’s less emphasis on content knowledge, because it’s ubiquitous,” says D.J. Condon, head of school for Le Jardin Academy. “If you can Google it, why memorize it? That’s made the shift over from answers to questions. What we’re valuing are people who can ask really good questions and collaborate with others.”


The best way to accomplish that for many has been with project-based learning, and that’s where some parents have trouble. “It seems to be a really hard paradigm shift for us culturally,” says Melissa Handy, education technology director and robotics team coach at Le Jardin. “There are still parents [who think] homework equals learning, or time on task equals learning.” So, while the teachers wait for the students to come up with projects and figure out what questions they need to be asking, and the students wait for the teachers to tell them what to do, there’s a period of inaction that can be stressful for parents who think their kids aren’t learning. “At some point, there is a buck-stops-here point, where the kid really does have to take over,” Handy says. “As a school, you have to be confident in your program and know that your program works.” (It does. All of Le Jardin’s students who apply get into college, and their scores are going up, she says.)


 Students in this spring's theater production at Le Jardin Academy were involved in the entire process, from playwriting to acting.
Photo: Courtesy of Le Jardin Academy


Maddie Matthews, who graduated this past spring, attended eight other schools around the country–public and private, religious and secular–before settling at Le Jardin for high school. “I could just tell—the teachers I had met, the current students already enrolled, something was different about them,” she says. “It was a different environment.” She joined the drama program her sophomore year, mostly acting and studying classic plays, and was bitten by the theater bug. As she got older, the program became more intense: She and a partner had to create a play from scratch, including writing the script, designing costumes, figuring out lighting and sound, and performing it. Then she had to create a director’s notebook for an unfamiliar play, diagramming how she would produce a few scenes. “By thinking critically and attempting to see how people have done it in the past and using that for your own aspirations can really help you and develop your knowledge,” she says. “You think that theater is a creative outlet, it’s thinking outside the box, but this happens in every class. We’ll merge different subjects and have projects that go beyond anything you’d see in a regular classroom.”


For example, she had to deliver a report in Spanish about how she would live independently, which involved researching how to find jobs and housing and pay for utilities. She wrote a paper on how gender affected people’s favorite movie genres for math class. In biology, she researched how music affected heart rate.


“In 21st-century learning, there’s been a movement away from the supremacy of content knowledge and more toward those skills and those habits of mind,” Condon says. “It’s not so easy to measure whether a student’s intellectually curious or whether they’re resilient or even intrinsically motivated,” but those are the skills that predict future success.


According to a recent LinkedIn study, the number of companies people worked for in the five years after graduating college has nearly doubled in the past 20 years. On average, graduates will work for four different companies in their first 10 years out of school. “They’re going to have to be very flexible and adapt to a new situation, and that includes continuing to be lifelong learners and develop and grow professionally in their respective jobs,” says Hanalani’s Sakurai, especially when many of tomorrow’s jobs don’t exist yet.


“Essentially the idea of preparing them for the real world sends this really awful message that their lives right now are not real,” says Condon. But, at Le Jardin, their work is real: Two 10th grade boys who did a personal project related to facilities on campus came to the school’s Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting and were asked by a prominent local architect to apply for a summer internship. A student at Island Pacific Academy in Kapolei was offered $5,000 to do research at a university based on his desire to create scholarship opportunities for students to go to IPA. Students at Hanalani redesigned their entire library: “That process of working together was probably the hardest process for them because they had conflicting ideas, they had different personalities and they will say they struggled through that process, but that doesn’t happen in a traditional classroom,” Sakurai says. “One student was offered a job because of the redesign, because of the effort he put in.”


Developing leadership skills is just one aspect of what schools focus on now. “The core content is still very much part of what we do,” Sakurai says. “It’s not either/or, it’s not traditional or project-based, it’s both. Content is the foundation upon which you build, so you have to know your science, you have to know your math, in order to apply those things to real-world situations.”


At Maui’s Seabury Hall, upper-school students in an elective course on sustainability had to do scientific and historical research to determine the school’s energy usage. “They came up with an 80-page proposal to help our school get a PV system on top of our gymnasium,” says Scott Winham, a teacher and head of the upper school. Now the system provides more than half of the school’s electricity.


“If schools stayed the same, we’re preparing students for the wrong world,” says Mark Hines, teacher and director of Mid-Pacific Institute’s MPx program, which is a project-based, cross-disciplinary program for ninth and 10th graders. The program teaches literature, history, art, science, technology, physics and math through a range of nontraditional tools, from designing electric bikes to a sustainability garden.


Because of this changing landscape, the top U.S. News & World Report and Ivy League schools are not necessarily the end goal for high-aiming students anymore—it’s more about fit. Many schools use Naviance, a college and career readiness platform, to help students figure out the best places for them. For Island Pacific Academy student Marc Delucchi, his pick of small liberal-arts school Kenyon College was unconventional, but the school paid to fly him up to Ohio before he had even committed. In fact, he was invited to three different schools, but he chose Kenyon because of its writing program.


Before and after: Students at Hanalani  Schools redesigned the  library to encourage  productivity and collaboration.
Before and after: Students at Hanalani Schools redesigned the library to encourage productivity and collaboration.
Photo: Courtesy of Hanalani Schools


The way we’ve historically evaluated a child’s education serves more as a measuring stick against other kids than accurately reflecting who they are as people and what strengths they have. The National Association for College Admission Counseling reports that test scores are still one of the top three things colleges look at. But even the SAT is adapting. Launched this past March, the new SAT includes an optional essay, does not penalize students for guessing and uses more appropriate vocabulary, rather than big words you need to memorize but rarely use. And AP exams are changing, too, by becoming more relevant. Curriculum and GPA are still important, but more and more colleges are opening their application requirements to include essays, portfolios, letters of recommendation and video submissions, rather than just transcripts and scores. Some schools are test optional, others test blind. “Even major companies are looking for more than just high GPA,” says Gerald Teramae, head of school at IPA. “They’re really looking for who you are as a person besides what academic skills you can offer.” Olin College of Engineering, for instance, holds Candidates’ Weekends for about 200 applicants, where potential students tour the campus, take part in group exercises and have an informal interview. Attendance is mandatory if you wish to be accepted.


But it’s not just small obscure schools that have nontraditional application processes. Stanford University allows an optional arts portfolio, where you can show off a talent in art, dance, music or theater without having to major in the arts, and an optional letter by someone other than a teacher or counselor. The whole point is to show other areas of interest, responsibility and skill that you wouldn’t get from a one-page application but play a big part in how you might contribute to the college community.


 Mid-Pac’s Patrick Rhee and his classmates worked with community partners to design, build and implement innovative aquaponics systems.
Mid-Pac’s Patrick Rhee and his classmates worked with community partners to design, build and implement innovative aquaponics systems.
Photo: Courtesy of Mid-Pac Institute


“We’ve had some positive feedback from parents saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know my child could do that!’” Hanalani’s Sakurai says. He heard from others who felt their children had been disengaged until they had a project to work on, and then they ended up becoming group leaders. “It becomes more meaningful for the students.” Recent statistics support the shift: For the past six years, all of Hanalani’s students were admitted to college, with an average of $100,000 in scholarships. Last year, with only 54 graduates, three of them were Regents Scholars at UH. “Some of our students are really successful just because of the different things they’re doing. One student did a science project back in high school helping to launch cube satellites. He’s a junior [in college] now, and a company hired him. He actually has a job and they’re paying for his tuition.”


Dintersmith, who brought Most Likely to Succeed on a national screening tour ending in Hawai‘i, thinks that our state “can be highly influential around the rest of the world.” He says that Hawai‘i was by the far the most inspiring place he went. “Some of the most amazing learning experiences I saw in a year of travel were in your state. I visited half a dozen different schools. There were some incredible, incredible examples of what these kids are capable of," he says. "I’m betting big that Hawai‘i is a leader in this.”


Recognizing Leaders 

This year, the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools debuted awards for students and teachers nominated by their schools. HAIS Vision Awards went to students who celebrate diversity, care about social justice, show leadership and integrity. Educator of the Future Award winners demonstrate leadership, creativity, promote culture, are clear communicators and have an impact.


Educators of the Future

Branden Hazlet 

Maui Preparatory Academy

Hazlet is the primary force behind Maui Prep’s “maker space,” where students have built a hovercraft and trikes. He launched the middle school robotics team, which has qualified for the VEX Worlds competition. In the Upper School, Hazlet also leads the “concentrations program,” where students drill deeper in certain disciplines. 


Mark Hines

Mid-Pacific Institute

Hines serves as the first director of educational technology at Mid-Pacific, designing and teaching in the “MPx” program, leading school professionals in a summer workshop on project-based learning, serving on the inaugural board of SEEQs charter school and coaching Mid-Pac’s paddling club for more than two decades.


Matt Piercy  

Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy

Matt Piercy’s classes foster and challenge students to think globally and act on their sense of social responsibility. Piercy adapts easily and enthusiastically to project-based learning and maximizing technology, and communicates effectively with others. He is not afraid to bring difficult conversations and advocacy approaches to his students.


Van Nicholas Velasco 

Pacific Buddhist Academy

Velasco has worked with juniors in the PBA Peace Core class “Radical Movements,” a student-directed inquiry to analyze and modify the school’s carbon footprint. It has led to student initiatives in vegan diets, community waste collection and analysis, “zero waste” days, water preservation and aquaponics systems, recycling systems and infrastructure, and ongoing experiments in composting. 


Vision Award Winners 

Jasmine Chow

​Maryknoll School

Chow is an active member of the National Honor Society and Key Club and has spearheaded various events that support her fellow students along with others in the community. She displayed leadership through the planning and organization of the Winter Ball Blitz in 2015, helped with Prom 2015 and served as co-chair for Prom 2016. Chow also planned and organized the canned food drive for Catholic Schools Week, collecting more than 400 cans. 


Marc Delucchi

Island Pacific Academy

Delucchi, in class, is often the first to shed light on injustice in history or literature. Out of the classroom, when students have struggled with difficult content, he leads study sessions, making them interactive and fun. And when the Intermediate Boys basketball team needed a coach, he helped teach them valuable lessons in dedication and teamwork. 


Jonah “Ku‘i” Gilliland

​Mid-Pacific Institute

Gilliland is a part of an ongoing (multiyear) project to develop a 3-D-printable prosthesis, which will be fully functional and responsive to brain commands. Because it is 3-D-printed, the prosthesis can be affordable and available to those in need. Gilliland pursues this project with passion and is committed to making it a reality.


Elizabeth James  

Maui Preparatory Academy

James sets herself apart through her leadership of the Rotary Interact Club. Two successful service projects that stand out are raising funds and goods for an orphanage in Oaxaca, Mexico, and acquiring financial and human resource support making and serving food at a local homeless shelter.  


Jasmine Kim

Saint Francis School

Kim, an honors student, is involved in nearly all school activities. She volunteers on the school’s recruitment team, participates in student government, plays in the school band, plays piano for school liturgies and is one of the school videographers, documenting school life. Additionally, she plays piano for her church and is involved in the children’s day care.


Jordan Klein

Trinity Christian School

At school, at home and in the community, Klein is a role model living an active, balanced lifestyle. He serves as a student leader at school, is a member of the National Honor Society, plays soccer and volleyball, competes in speech and debate competitions, leads the school worship team, volunteers with HEARTS and assists at his church.



The Timeline Applying to Private School 

Photo: David Croxford

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 109 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 “What Are You Looking For?” guide.


 One way to take a look at many private schools at the same time is to attend the HAIS School Fair. The fair is for prospective students from preschool through 12th grade. The fair will be held on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu. The fair will include breakout sessions on applying to independent schools 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

  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.



Test Time 

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, Hawai‘i Baptist Academy, Saint Louis, The St. Andrew’s Schools, Island Pacific Academy, Le Jardin Academy, Hanalani and Trinity Lutheran of Wahiaw-a on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Preparatory Academy on the Big Island.


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. Many schools offer financial aid. To be considered, you must 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 March 30, expect to receive a notification on March 30, 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. 



Finishing Touches

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 2016 and 2017

  • Oct. 15, 2016

  • Nov. 12, 2016

  • Dec. 10, 2016

  • Jan. 7, 2017

  • Feb. 11, 2017

  • March 4, 2017

  • April 22, 2017

  • June 10, 2017

Source: ssat.org


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 $127. Late registration (available online only) is open for one week after regular registration closes, and costs $45 more; after that, rush registration is $85 more, and is available until three days before the test date. Walk-in and standby testing options are not offered.


Have questions about the admissions process? Check out the truth behind a few common myths, plus tips on acing the entrance interview.



Catching Up

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 that 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 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 executive director of HAIS Robert Landau. He has worked around the world in accreditation since 1981. “To be honest, there are excellent schools that are not accredited,” says Landau.“But I am a strong believer in the process and think accreditation is an important indicator of excellence.”


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, curriculum, health, safety, governance and finances. 


This is no one-time exam. Rather, “accreditation implies a school wants to know where they can improve, what areas are in need of strengthening,” says Landau. “Accreditation is a journey that never ends, so every few years, the school is required to provide updated information, respond to previous recommendations, and demonstrate a strategic approach to development.”


A seal of accreditation signifies an examination of the comprehensive educational experience at a school. “I have seen many agencies move from a more 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 applications 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, find a list of primary ones on the next page:


Primary Accreditations


American Association of Christian Schools. National Christian accreditation body with member schools in all but four states. aacs.org



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



American Montessori Society. amshq.org 



Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. whywaldorfworks.org



Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools. Local umbrella organization that is part of the National Association of Independent Schools. hais.org



North American Division Commission on Accreditation. Seventh-day Adventist accreditation organization. nadeducation.org



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



National Lutheran School Accreditation. Nationwide accrediting body for Lutheran schools. lcms.org/schools



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



Western Catholic Education Association. Accredits Hawai‘i Catholic Schools. westwcea.org



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.


1. Accreditation

Has the school been approved by a recognized accrediting body?


2. Affordability 

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 Rates 

How many of the school’s graduates go on to higher education? What’s the college counseling department like at the school?


5. Curriculum 

Are there advanced-placement or International-Baccalaureate classes? Does the school have cocurricular, 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?


9. Location 

How long will your morning commute be? What is the physical campus like?


10. Mission & 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?


11. Type 

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?


13. Selectivity 

How difficult is it to gain admission into the school? If you apply to selective schools, make sure to apply to several.


14. Size 

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’ Kapa–lama 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 applicant, their interests, ideas, communication skills, character, 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 good night’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

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—Damien Memorial School and La Pietra, 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, family doctor, clergy, social worker or 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.


Some Tips 

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 that 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

There are some persistent myths surrounding the admissions process. We checked out a few of them with the schools themselves.


Myth: My friend’s child has been “wait-listed,” but is first in line. 

Reality: “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 what is essentially 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.


Myth: If I send my child to a “feeder school,” there will automatically be a better chance of admission.

Reality: “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.


Myth: At certain schools, reading is a must before kindergarten admission.

Reality: Nope. Nowhere is reading a prerequisite for kindergarten entry. Pua Fernandez, director of admissions at Kamehameha Schools’ Kapalama campus says, “No. We do not expect children to be reading at age 4. However, we do look for exposure to the alphabet.” 


Myth: If my child doesn’t get in at kindergarten, he or she will never get in.

Reality: 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 only 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.


Myth: If you’re not well-connected, wealthy or an alumnus, you can forget about applying.

Reality: 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.


Myth: Admissions directors make all the decisions.

Reality: Especially at a big school, admissions decisions are usually made by a committee, not any 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.


Myth: Submitting my child’s application right before the deadline means their assessment or group session will be scheduled later, giving them a developmental advantage over younger kids who were tested earlier.

Reality: 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, but could potentially mean that there are fewer open spaces or that your child is now expected to be even more developed.