Public "Feeder Schools": A Ticket to Hawaii's Top Private Schools?

Susan Okano
Susan Okano
Doreen Higa
Doreen Higa

(KHNL) - A better education. Or perhaps, elevated social status.

There are numerous reasons why parents here in Hawaii enroll their children in private school.

Either way, it's no secret, the cost of a private school education in Hawaii is steep.

When you calculate it out, a 13-year career at a private school can run a family about 350,000 dollars, roughly the median cost of a condominium in Honolulu.

But a number of financially savvy parents, look to delay forking-out that kind of money.

The pattern is basic: save money during the early years by taking advantage of an exceptional state-funded education.

Then, test and send their child to a private middle or high school, where that sizable tuition awaits.

"As she got older and was at the age where we wanted to send her to Punahou, that Momilani has this wonderful reputation," says Patricia McCarthy, who has a child attending Punahou School, who first attended Momilani Elementary School.

Enter, this informal list of Hawaii's top public elementary schools; Hawaii's elite schools that receive a large number of district exemption requests for the purpose of preparing their children for private school entry, down the road.

We begin at Aina Haina Elementary.

The school's street nickname: "Free Punahou."

"We don't prepare the youngsters for private school here, says Aina Haina principal Susan Okano. We just want to provide the best education possible. We may have some programs that the private schools do have, like the arts program, that we value a great deal."

Cclose to half of this year's kindergarten class are from out-of-district.

Make no mistake; this is a touchy subject.

The official line is there are no feeder schools.

But the numbers and reputation, tell a different story.

Of the 59 members of the Aina Haina's 2006 graduating 5th grade class, 14 are now enrolled in a private school.

"It means something that our school has value, that others want to come here, says Okano. But, there are other factors like maybe it's more convenient for the parents to drop off their youngsters here."

There are a handful of other public schools that enjoy similar reputations:

  • - Maemae Elementary School
  • - Noelani Elementary
  • - Nuuanu Elementary

All hovering near the top of the exemption wish-list.

And then, there is this powerhouse in Pearl City, arguably, the number one public elementary school in the state, two-time national blue ribbon winner, Momilani Elementary School.

"With our rigorous academic programming and our excellent teaching staff, the children have been viable candidates when it comes to application for private school, say Doreen Higa, Momilani Elementary School principal.

Like the other successful schools, Higa has her faculty, her students, and their parents working together like a fine-tuned machine.

This past year, Momilani placed 14 students into Punahou school, alone.

3 former Momilani students, now attend Iolani.

"What comes with them is their work ethic, says Higa. That's number one as the feedback, whether its public or private school, that our student persevere, they do their homework. And with that feedback, it drives us further."