Will a small Oahu school be shut down?

Lori Kuwahara
Lori Kuwahara

By Paul Drewes - bio | email

AINA HAINA (KHNL) - The end may be coming for some of Hawaii's small public schools, as the state takes a closer look at the cost and quality of a student's education.

The issue is over smaller class size and having fewer students at a school.

It's more costly, but is it a better education overall for students?

The state will decide, with the fate of an East Oahu school on the line.

Tucked in the back of Wailupe Valley, the small school Wailupe Valley Elementary can be found.

"It's a beautiful campus, its like a little country school and the hustle and bustle of the city is way down the road - it's a very nurturing environment," said Susan Okano, the school's principal.

There are only six classes at Wailupe Valley Elementary, one for each grade from kindergarten to fifth. With only 78 students at the entire school, the classes are small.

Which means more individual attention from teachers, and a chance for each student to participate. Like taking turns leading a schoolwide assembly, something Lori Kuwahara's 1st graders are preparing for.

"They feel they have a voice, they can speak up more, because of our small school. They have more opportunities to be a part of the regular activities," said Kuwahara, who has been a teacher here since 2001.

But this small setting comes at a big price. It costs the state $12,000 per student at Wailupe Valley. Just down the road at Aina Haina elementary, the cost per student is only $5,000.

Consolidating these student into another school would not only be cheaper, but it would also make more programs available to these students.

But Janet Borja, who volunteers and has 2 kids that go here, is concerned about the possible change. She's seen how the school's family atmosphere and small size are its strengths.

"A lot of the children are shy and as they know the kids they get closer to each other. They build that confidence and they don't feel left out," said Borja.

Wailupe Valley Elementary has been around for half a century, which is an impressive milestone.

But it will be a bittersweet anniversary celebration this year, because it also may be the school's last.

A state task force is looking into possibly consolidating the students with another school. If that idea moves forward, there would be public hearings on the changes later this spring.