KILAUEA — Justin Chew has lived in Wainiha for 20 years. He knows the difficulties of not having a middle or high school on the North Shore as his son has journeyed to Kapaa High School from Wainiha, an hour’s drive one way.
“We had to take public buses, we had to share rides and he was on the soccer team so he would get out of school after that, so he had to rely on public transportation,” he said. “Several hours a day that would be utilized for homework and other extracurricular activities gets wasted sitting on buses.”
Chew said the current situation causes students to detach from their home communities, and believes that having a middle and high school on the North Shore would mean a better quality education for them.
“I think it would be a positive move for the North Shore and the entire community,” he said.
Kauai North Shore Community Foundation member Lorraine Mull and others are pushing for a public middle and high school on the North Shore. There are elementary schools in Hanalei and Kilauea but no public school on the North Shore that goes beyond the sixth grade.
“Our community is long overdue for this much-needed school and it is our intention to convince the Department of Education that a public school in our community is a high priority,” said Mull.
She said the North Shore community suffers several inconveniences due to the lack of a public school in the area, a primary one being the long commute to Kapaa schools.
“Many of our students are rising before daylight to take a bus to school which takes more than an hour each way,” Mull said. “These middle/high school students are precluded from engaging in after-school activities such as sports, music, study groups, etc., which are vital for their social, emotional and physical development, because they have to catch the bus for the hour-plus drive back to the North Shore.”
Some North Shore parents like Princeville resident Ashley Jones are also unhappy with their children’s long commute and believe a middle and high school in the area would be a huge benefit.
“That prospect is so incredibly exciting to me,” Jones said about a new school. “It’s really draining on the kids to have that long bus ride in both directions, not to mention the school capacity at Kapaa Middle and High School.”
Jones also has a third-grader at Hanalei Elementary School, and home-schooled her eighth-grader to avoid the long commute between Princeville and Kapaa.
“I’m hopeful that my younger children might have that option, so with this initiative, I’m very excited to see if this can become a reality,” she said.
As of 2010, Kauai’s North Shore population, including Hanalei, Kilauea, Wainiha, Princeville, Haena and Kalihiwai, was 6,588 residents. Out of that total, 694 people were 10 to 19 years of age, according to the U.S Census Bureau FactFinder.
Fifty-eight North Shore middle students are bused to Kapaa Middle School, while 81 North Shore students are bused to Kapaa High School, according to the Department of Education Student Transportation.
Mull is working with Kauai Area Complex Superintendent Bill Arakaki on the plan. Arakaki declined to comment on the proposal.
Mull said the Department of Education would need to determine whether the middle and high school should be constructed with state funding in order to determine a possible site location.
Alternative options such as a charter school, which would pair DOE and private funding, are also being considered. Five acres would be necessary to establish the school, which they hope to make available to seventh through twelfth-graders with no tuition fees.
As the PTSA president of Hanalei Elementary School, Princeville resident Kelley Doi also supports the plan.
“I went to Hanalei School, I grew up on the North Shore of Kauai and there wasn’t an option in the ‘80s and I don’t think we had the amount of students to have one (school),” she said. “Now, I believe we do have the numbers to support it and it would really balance out Kauai.”
The nonprofit KNCF is working to raise awareness of the initiative and gauge the level of community support. The foundation has collected letters and signatures supporting the plan.
“The response from the North Shore community has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic,” Mull said.
“In addition to the obvious benefits to our students and their families, a new school facility in our community would provide a much-needed emergency shelter as well as a venue for public events. Permanent jobs would be generated and the benefits to our community on multiple levels would be enormous.”