Hawaii's Best High School: Mililani High School

Mililani High School honor student and soccer standout, Taylor Oldani.

Photo: Mark Arbeit

Mililani High School serves one of the largest communities in Hawaii, and, with an enrollment of nearly 2,500 students, the campus is one of the largest public schools in state. This year, it’s also the top-ranked public high school on our “Grading the Public Schools” chart. It edged out its Central Oahu rival, Moanalua High School, by less than 1 percent, ending Moanalua’s longtime reign.

Mililani is a Step Up Hawaii high school, and principal John Brummel says that its students commit to taking a rigorous curriculum. Step Up is a statewide campaign that promotes college and career readiness for Hawaii’s high-school students.

“We’ve increased the number of Advanced Placement [AP] classes every year since I started here in 2005. Next year, we’ll have 18 AP classes so students can earn up to 54 college credits while in high school,” Brummel says. “About 700 to 800 of our kids take AP classes. It’s something we’re very proud of.”

Vice principal James Petersen also credits Mililani’s high scores to its recent emphasis on 21st-century learning and teaching.

“Our job as educators is to look at the ninth grader walking across the campus and try to envision the world in which she will live and work in the 21st century,” Petersen says. “The 21st century is already a decade old—it’s time to get on it!”

He refers to a recent job listing he saw for a social-networking marketing specialist at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, offering an annual salary of $225,000. “That job didn’t exist when our kids were in middle school,” he says. “Where do high-school students learn the skills, aptitudes and habits of mind that will allow them to be successful in this kind of world? They’re not going to learn it pasting pictures on cardboard or writing reports on 3-by-5 index cards."

“The saddest thing is to have kids feel that school is irrelevant. Kids should not have to hang up their lives and step backwards 20 years every day when they come to school,” he says.

Illustration: Sol Linero

In response, Mililani has leveraged its grants, weighted student formula funding and general resources toward technology for teachers and students.

For instance, Mililani uses software and online services such as Edline, Google Apps, blogs, CiteULike and Wiki online modules to enhance communication among students, teachers and parents.

Petersen also hopes to introduce an online pilot program to help teachers incorporate Web 2.0 concepts into their lessons.

“Like teachers everywhere,” he says, “our instructors care about doing a good job. It’s important for the administration to provide them with the tools and encouragement they need to be successful, and then get out of their way.”

What’s next on the agenda? Elluminate, an online collaboration system that allows students and faculty to hold live, synchronous class sessions. Communication is instant, collaborative, accessible and meaningful for today’s 21st-century learners. Mililani hopes to have an Elluminate “classroom” set up in time for its pilot hybrid AP Economics course, scheduled to begin this fall.

“It’s about breaking down the barriers of classroom walls and bell schedules, and making learning available anytime, anywhere … creating time out of nothing. We need to be there when the kids want to learn … when they are available to learn,” Petersen says. “Using online modalities has enhanced the conversation. It gives a voice to kids who ordinarily wouldn’t speak in the class.”

Along with the school’s great breadth of academic courses and programs of study, students are also encouraged to participate in the school’s numerous co-curricular activities, community-service clubs and sports teams.

“As a public school, we’re told to be everything for everyone. We need to educate every child,” Petersen says. “And you know, we really try. We’re there to open the door so that every child can step through.”