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Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series looking at how Campbell High and other public schools are trying to accommodate population growth and deal with other problems such as overheated classrooms. Tomorrow we explore what’s behind the capacity and facility problems and what the Department of Education is doing to address those challenges.
Tracie Koide likes to devote as much class time as possible to working with each student one-on-one. The students usually spend half an hour or so taking some notes but quickly delve into in-class exercises, at which point Koide, a 10th-grade geometry teacher, walks around the room to address each kid’s individual needs.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Koide works at James Campbell High School — the largest public school in the state. With enrollment standing at some 2,820 students, the school’s roughly 160 teachers typically have class sizes nearing — and sometimes surpassing — 40 kids.
That means that students often get less support than they need. And teachers are forced to prioritize their time based on who needs the most help, Koide said.
“It’s a balance of who do you leave behind,” Koide said, adding that she loves her profession too much to leave it — even if that requires her to live at home with her parents for the time being.
Local educators say Campbell’s challenges epitomize what has become an increasing problem throughout Hawaii: many schools are over capacity, and the state has few solutions in sight. Enrollment at many schools is on the rise, to the point that current facilities are all but bursting at the seams.
And that, Koide says, can take a heavy toll on student learning. The Leeward heat, which school officials say easily hits 90 degrees indoors and subsides only in the few rooms on campus that have air conditioning, doesn’t help either.
Civil Beat arrived at Campbell on a breezy yet muggy morning in mid-April. Aside from the distant buzz of lawnmowers and the occasional airplane soaring overhead, the campus was, for a brief moment, silent and still.
And then the bell rung. Hundreds of students spilled out of the gray, generic buildings, flooding the campus center and then snaking through the maze of sidewalks and portables, likely headed to another round of overcrowded, overheated classes.
Rosenlee organized the Hawaii Teachers Work to the Rules movement.
“It’s too easy … to sweep these things under the rug,” said Corey Rosenlee, a Campbell social studies teacher and organizer of Hawaii Teachers Work to the Rules — a grassroots movement that’s urging the state to stop taking teachers for granted. The state’s teachers, he emphasized, are overburdened and underpaid.
“Our rooms will still be crowded, they’ll still be hot, and our teachers will still have a second job.”
In 2003, Campbell — which sits in the heart of Ewa Beach — was the state’s 11th largest public school, enrolling roughly 1,850 students. In less than 10 years, however, enrollment has skyrocketed by more than 50 percent, accounting for some of the most pronounced student population growth in Hawaii. (Statewide student enrollment, on the other hand, increased by a mere 0.4 percent.)
By 2008, Campbell had risen to third place, and by 2009 it shot past Farrington and Waipahu high schools to earn its spot as the largest public school in the state.
Experts attribute the climbing enrollment to rampant population growth in areas like Ewa Beach as the high cost of living in Honolulu drives families out to new and affordable planned communities such as Ewa by Gentry and Mehana in Kapolei.
Census data show that between 2000 and 2010 the population in the Ewa judicial district — which extends roughly between Aiea and Nanakuli and is bordered at the north by Wahiawa and the Koolau Ridge — grew by nearly 19 percent, or more than 42,000 people, marking the largest population growth on Oahu. By comparison, the state’s total population during that time grew by 12 percent, and that in Honolulu by less than 9 percent.
Planned communities abound in Ewa Beach and surrounding areas.
“The population of the state has not varied much. But population centers shift all over the place,” said Ray L’Heureux, assistant superintendent for the DOE’s Office of School Facilities and Support Services. “So it’s very tough sometimes — these second cities start up so fast that we don’t have the capacity to meet some of that demand.”
Educators say the school’s growth is noticeable. This year, Campbell’s graduating class, for example, has about 570 students. Compare that to the incoming freshmen enrollment, which officials say is expected to stand at more than 850 students.
“The infrastructure isn’t following the development,” said Elton Kinoshita, one of Campbell’s seven vice principals. “What are they going to do five years from now when we’re at 3,500, 3,600 students? … And the solutions aren’t that easy. Teachers aren’t complaining just to complain.”
The Hawaii Department of Education has implemented stopgap solutions such as portable classrooms to address the growth, but teachers say those do little to alleviate the overcrowding.
Interviews with various teachers suggests that a typical class at Campbell has more than 35 students — far surpassing the national average of 23 students.
But in the short term, it looks as if stopgap solutions are the only remedy.
Sen. Will Espero, whose district includes Ewa Beach, said the Legislature every year is faced with funding requests for new schools. But officials say building a new, state-of-the-art high school costs as much as $130 million.
“We have very limited resources that have to be stretched statewide,” Espero said.
According to L’Heureux, the state hasn’t built a new school in 12 years.
One beacon of hope for the district is the prospect of East Kapolei High School — a new school for which the DOE plans on requesting $140 million in the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years. It’s already requested $5 million for the 2015 fiscal year, the department’s capital improvement project budget list shows.
But Espero stressed that school is a long way’s away off. Rosenlee, moreover, said the project hasn’t gotten the momentum necessary for it to move forward.
“There’s no real pressure to build it,” Rosenlee said.
New homes in Ewa by Gentry.
And that’s largely because there’s no money to fund it. The state has consistently ranked last in the country in its school CIP funding, according to Mary Filardo, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based 21st Century School Fund, a nonprofit whose mission is to encourage community involvement in the modernization and planning of urban public schools. Filardo visited Honolulu last year and was shocked by how little the state invests in public education facilities — a shortfall she attributed to both limited community participation and the single-district system.
L’Heureux echoed Filardo’s concerns, noting that the state invests $294 per pupil per year in school facilities.
“When you have an annual CIP budget of between $220 (million) and $290 (million), plus requests at about 260 schools, you can see the dilemma,” L’Heureux said, theorizing that the state would budget one new school every two years. “Imagine taking that $130 million out of that $220 million for one year.” (L’Heureux expects the next new school to go up in Kihei, Maui.)
Meantime, overcrowding is growing reality at schools like Campbell.
At Campbell, classrooms are jam-packed with desks and supplies, with students — their faces gleaming with sweat — often clustered so close together that they have to rearrange every time someone gets up. Some teachers said they have to bring in folding chairs for themselves or improvise by having kids sit on stacks of papers. A few told Civil Beat they regularly have students sitting on the floor or sharing desks.
And when a classroom isn’t over capacity, that’s often because at least a few students are absent or dropped out of the course at some point during the semester, teachers said, stressing that the overcrowding affects student performance and discipline.
The sheer number of students in each class facilitates cheating and can make it difficult to pay attention, said Darlene Dunston, a U.S. history teacher.
And Koide said the class sizes limit her ability to both work with each student individually and manage the classroom as a whole, which on a bad day is all but impossible.
“It can be a living hell or total breeze,” Koide said.
It’s gotten to the point that teachers sometimes turn to designated students to help monitor rowdy classrooms, according to Uilani Chow-Rule, Campbell’s Parent Teacher Student Association president.
Students head to class after lunch.
Chow-Rule said her son, Kamalama Kaikuana, a senior, is one of those students.
“The crowd control takes away from his learning time,” she said, adding that Kaikuana has an Individualized Education Program that includes some special education services.
According to Rosenlee, the large class sizes are in part due to the school’s adoption of block scheduling, which involves longer class time and fewer class periods per day. Still, the academic benefits of block scheduling, Rosenlee said, are astronomical — in part because it often allows students to complete their graduation requirements early, giving them time to enroll in Advanced Placement or college courses or recover failed classes.
“But why does it always have to be either-or?” he said. “I don’t think it should have to be between choices of higher class sizes and block scheduling.”
The school this past year lost its Title I grant because the number of qualifying students dropped by 14, cutting the school’s funding by as much as $600,000. The money, according to Kinoshita, would’ve been used to fund additional teaching positions. (To qualify for Title I funding, a school needs to have at least 47.2 percent of its student population qualify for free or reduced-fee lunch.)
All in all, Filardo agreed that large classes detract from each student’s right to quality public education.
“It basically says they’re kind of throwing these kids away,” she said.