Alakai officials remain hopeful

KAPAA — Alakai O Kauai Public Charter School will not be opening in August.

That decision came after an almost eight-month endeavor to find a space for the school came up short.

“Obviously we can’t open up this year if we have no place to put up a door, or a tent,” said Indy Reeves, vice chair of the school.

Additionally, every site required approval from the Planning Department and adherence to fire, health and safety codes, she said. And if the school wanted to take over an empty retail space, officials would have to apply for a variance, she said.

“All of those things are really time consuming, and as much as the mayor and the county supports the effort, they can’t break the rules for us,” Reeves said.

As disappointing as the news was, telling the 111 families who enrolled was worse, Reeves said.

“That’s the hardest part for me — having to tell everybody,” she said.

The school board tried about 20 locations, said Kani “DrB” Blackwell, chair. It wanted to open a space in Kapaa, considered leasing empty land on Kawaihau Road near Mahelona Medical Center and renting spaces in churches, offices and halls, she said.

Now, the board has its sights set on opening by August 2018.

“We will have time to overcome some of the obstacles of special use permits and zoning laws for schools,” she said.

Blackwell was disappointed the opening had to be delayed.

“My heart breaks when I think of the many children and families who had hopes for a different kind of school with no desks, only tables for collaborative work and no homework, for we believe in quality family time,” she said.

The charter school was denied twice before being approved by the Hawaii State Charter School Commission in 2016.

When it applied in 2015, it was seeking to open a branch of the international Entrepreneurial Development Arts Design School, based in California. The application was denied by the commission, which was concerned about the administration’s ability to implement the proposed programs in Hawaii.

So when officials submitted their application a year later, they dropped affiliation from iLEAD, instead using it as a model. Having to continue without iLEAD was damaging to the school’s chances, Blackwell said.

“iLEAD schools are transforming education with project-based learning, social emotional learning and individualized learning plans for each child,” she said. “We wanted this kind of school for Kauai, for all children do not learn the same way.”

Operating costs are expected to be $1.3 million. While most of that will come from the state, the school must raise about $250,000.

The school pursued grants and started a gofundme account, which raised $6,000, she said.

“In trying to obtain grants and funding, we are told repeatedly that we do not have a proven track record to give us money,” Blackwell said.

If the school doesn’t open by the 2018-2019, it loses its charter approval.

“Through teamwork, collaboration, and fortitude, AOKPCS will persevere,” Reeves said. “Their aim for the next year is to build their network and team, focus more on fundraising through events and grants, and find an Eastside location where they can begin as soon as possible the time consuming state and county procedures for opening a school facility.”

AOKPCS will be hosting a meeting May 8 at the Lydgate Park pavilion, from 6 p.m. to 7:30, to answer questions and to recruit volunteers.

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