KAIMUKI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public school enrollment in the urban Honolulu area has fallen in the last five years while enrollment in Ewa and Kapolei, where families have moved in search of affordable homes, is on the upswing.
The number of students at Kaimuki High School, founded in 1943, has dropped sharply in recent years, fueling incorrect rumors that the school will close.
"What I've heard is that we're not going to have enough students enrolled in the school and that the school might possibly shut down," said Charley Tran, a Kaimuki High junior.
The rumors upset Kaimuki teachers, such as MJ Matsushita, who heads the high school's performing arts program.
"We hear it around in the general community from people who come up and say 'Hey, I hear Kaimuki is closing.' Or my alumni will contact me and say 'Hey, we hear Kaimuki is closing. What's going on?'" Matsushita said.
Wade Araki, the Kaimuki High principal for the last four years, said, "I can assure everybody that Kaimuki is alive and well and will continue to grow and build as a school and we have no intention of closing."
Araki said enrollment at Kaimuki has dropped by nearly one third in the last five years, going from 1,030 to 730 students.
"It is a concern. And the rumors don't help with that," Araki said. "It doesn't help add students to our enrollment. It actually hurts us because people would think 'Why should I go to a school that might be closing?'"
In the last five years, public school enrollment in urban Honolulu that includes Kaimuki, McKinley and Roosevelt high schools as well as the middle and elementary schools that feed them declined by nearly 800 students or five percent.
But enrollment in the Campbell and Kapolei high school complex went up by eight percent in the same period, adding 1,200 students.
"As homes get older, our median age has grown in the Honolulu district. The area itself is getting older. No new homes are really coming up in the Honolulu core. So people are moving to the affordable homes that are out on the West side," Araki said.
Campbell High School in Ewa Beach now has the highest population of any public school in the state with 3,000 students, about four times the number of students at Kaimuki High in town.
Araki said Kaimuki is losing more than 100 students a year to "geographic exceptions," when students choose another public school outside of the one closest to their home.
But he said Kaimuki has strong programs with 75 students taking courses for college-credit at University of Hawaii's flagship Manoa campus and Kapiolani Community College. Kaimuki also features academies to prepare students for careers in the entertainment and hospitality fields and a freshman academy that helps students with their transition to high school.
The second-largest high school in the state is Waipahu, with 2,494 students as of last fall, followed by Farrington (2,417), Mililani (2,415) and Kapolei (2,024).
Middle schools with the largest populations are in Mililani with 1,766 students, Kapolei (1,435) and Waipahu (2,494).