High school program helps improve grades and more

KAPAA — When Daniel Hamada took over as principal at Kapaa High School in 2010, things weren’t looking so good for the school’s ninth-grade class.

Thirty-three percent of Kapaa’s freshmen were receiving Ds and Fs on their report cards, 12 percent were absent on a consistent basis, and one in five were going to be held back another year.

“I re-interviewed the entire school staff because so many students were not passing classes,” Hamada said. “That sounds crazy, but it’s not. You have to show you’re making a difference for kids.”

Hamada said he “just had to find out who had the passion and the heart to work with our kids.”

“That’s nothing against the teachers. We have great teachers,” he said. “But it’s one step more; it’s about how can they work together to help every child to succeed.”

“The Kapaa Way” has become a rallying cry for the school, which has instilled a foundation of learning into incoming freshmen, according to a Hawaii Department of Education news release.

This program is designed to support ninth-graders during their high-school transition with skill-focused support and opportunities that are designed to help these students reach their collegiate and career goals.

In just one year, Hamada’s program saw attendance rise 4 percent, students earning Ds and Fs fall 15 percent, and the retention rate fall from 20 to 4 percent.

A big reason why was the Hui. The Hui is, essentially, two smaller learning communities for ninth-graders that provide foundational training.

Each Hui, made up of a little more than 100 students, has its own instruction- and student-support team comprised of core-subject teachers in English, math, social studies, science, physical education, special education and a transition-skills-to-high-school course. There is also a counselor and a vice principal involved with each Hui.

“Prior to 2011, the setup was scattered,” Hui teacher Calvin Paleka said in the release. “Kids were moving all over campus, mixing with the upperclassmen. Keeping all ninth-graders in proximity, all in the lower part of campus next to each other, it eliminated a lot of problems in terms of tardies and referrals, and we could build those relationships with the students to work with them closely.”

Fast-forward another four years to the present, and only 10 percent of ninth- graders received Ds and Fs, retention is down to 2 percent, and Kapaa High School has one of the highest graduation rates in the state (92 percent, 10 points above the state average).

Another change Kapaa made was changing the bell schedule from having seven or so classes a day to four 80-minute classes with a 35-minute tutoring period at the end of the day.

“I like the new schedule now,” said Bailey Bernabe, a senior at Kapaa High. “Being able to focus on one class for that period of time throughout the week, knowing that you’ll have it every day, is better.”

Bernabe, who has a 4.0 grade-point average and is a member of the Interact Club, said that at the end of the day a student’s ability to learn is up to them.

“It’s your responsibility. You’re a mature, young adult,” Bernabe said. “You’re preparing yourself for this next phase of life, so you better get it together.”

Recalling her freshmen year, Bernabe said, “The workload wasn’t that bad. The teachers really explain what you need to learn and there’s a lot of hands-on activities now. There’s Leadership Kauai classes, freshman have a transition class, but our seniors also have a transition class that transitions us to college and careers.”

It’s all part of “The Kapaa Way.”

“I think ‘The Kapaa Way,’ it just got right to the point,” Hamada said. “It’s what we believe in. It’s three words, but this is our vision, and this is how we’re gonna get there.”

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