A high-level ad hoc group set up by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to accelerate school reform and innovation had its first meeting on Thursday, Sept. 20, in Honolulu.
According to Wesley Lo, Maui's appointed member of the state Board of Education, about a dozen people gathered to discuss criteria and determine the best way to move forward on what is loosely termed the "21st Century Schools Initiative" (see "High Hurdles Remain for Kihei High School" in the Sept. 20-26 issue or at www.mauiweekly.com).
Among those attending were Alan Oshima of the Hawai'i Institute for Public Affairs; Kalbert Young, director of budget and finance for the state; Lloyd Hariguchi, head of the newly empowered and highly controversial Public Lands Development Corporation; and a variety of people representing the Department of Education (DOE) and the Office of the Governor, including Bruce Coppa, Gov. Abercrombie's chief of staff.
Lo, who is employed as the administrator for Maui Memorial Medical Center, said he is co-chair of the new committee with Oshima. In that capacity, he said he hopes to accelerate consideration of faster, less expensive and more imaginative ways to move the Kihei High School forward.
Lo said that the ad hoc committee hopes to have preliminary recommendations on criteria to present to the state Board of Education at its October meeting.
Lo also said that he is hopeful that the DOE matrix--the list of projected capital improvement projects being considered by the department--will also be on the agenda.
He did not know where the Kihei High School project was previously ranked, but said in his capacity as head of the BOE's finance and infrastructure committee, he intends to keep an eye on where the school is on the list. High placement on the matrix is considered a prerequisite to securing backing from the DOE's facilities branch and funding from the state Legislature. This is the traditional financial route for building schools in Hawai'i.
Looking at alternatives, Lo also said that he thinks that a modified and less traditional incarnation of Kihei High School has a good chance of being one of five pilot programs that may be initiated under the 21st Century Schools Initiative. He was not prepared to give specifics at this time, only saying "the governor has walked the site and does have a vision for Kihei. There's the potential to do a lot, including multi-use."
Lo also said that it is anticipated that at least one Neighbor Island school will be in the mix and that there is good reason to think that Kihei may be that school.
The Maui BOE member noted two other topics related to Kihei High School: First, that currently there is no person within the school system who has primary responsibility for advocating for the project and tracking it through the complex bureaucracy; and second, that he is interested in finding out the present costs to bus 400 students a day from South Maui who attend classes in Central Maui.
Lo also said that he is eager to see test scores from the Kihei Charter School, an alternative high school that presently operates in South Maui in leased commercial space. Kihei Charter School has grown substantially in recent years and delivers what may prove to be an equivalent educational experience at a substantially lower cost.
Though Lo was reluctant to say that the plans as presently drawn for the proposed high school are unrealistic, he did hint that he was leaning in the direction of "scaling back expectations and look at non-traditional approaches." He hopes to explore other alternatives after consulting with those who have participated in the process to date.