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Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series looking at overcrowding and overheating at Campbell High and other Hawaii public schools. Read part 1 here.
James Campbell High School wasn’t built to hold thousands of students.
When Campbell first opened in 1962, it served a modest population of plantation families. Little did the state know that Ewa Beach would burgeon as part of Oahu’s “second city” — a region that saw its population grow by nearly 19 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Campbell went from being Hawaii’s 11th largest school in 2003 to the state’s largest in 2009. And enrollment, now at 2,820 students, is still on the rise. Campbell’s incoming freshman class is expected to be 50 percent larger than this year’s graduating class.
The overcrowding — along with the Leeward side’s hot temperatures and Campbell’s lack of air conditioning — takes a heavy toll on student learning, teachers say. Class sizes easily top 35 kids, making it difficult for teachers to give each student adequate support and keep a check on student discipline and concentration.
Experts in large part attribute the overcrowding to poor planning. But the Hawaii Department of Education may have little recourse because funding is so scarce. Hawaii ranks last in the country for school-related capital improvement funding, spending just $294 per pupil per year on school facilities, according to Ray L’Heureux, assistant superintendent for the DOE’s Office of School Facilities and Support Services.
Mary Filardo is the 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. She realized just how little Hawaii invests in its public school facilities after visiting Honolulu last year.
She didn’t visit Campbell but, after looking at a blueprint, said it’s clear the school wasn’t built in anticipation of the population growth.
The DOE has about 1,500 portables in its inventory.
“It doesn’t look like there’s been any real planning here,” she said. “It’s not a very efficiently used piece of land at all. It’s all spread out so much.”
L’Heureux agreed that the state has done little to prepare school facilities for population growth. Hawaii’s public schools are, he emphasized, 65 years old on average.
The department is currently conducting a comprehensive inventory assessment of the school’s facilities with the goal of completing a master plan by the end of the year. According to L’Heureux, the department has never before had a plan that takes into account enrollment projections and the educational adequacy of facilities.
“I need that data to be able to make correct decisions,” he said. “We did not design schools well in the past.”
L’Heureux said the state doesn’t have a criteria for determining whether schools are overcrowded but pointed to legislation this year — Senate Bill 237 and House Bill 865 — that aims to modernize facilities standards, turning schools into modern environmentally friendly learning spaces.
“There’s no such thing as overcapacity,” he said. “It’s a huge metric to figure out … (but) plenty of schools are bursting at the seams.”
In fact, a National Center for Education Statistics study suggests that enrollment in Hawaii’s public schools is much larger than national averages. Whereas the average Hawaii high school enrolls 1,313 students, U.S. high schools on average enroll about 846 students, a Hawaii Educational Policy Center paper shows.
Some classrooms are housed in renovated sheds.
L’Heureux indicated that the department is looking into converting Campbell and the adjacent Pohakea Elementary and Ilima Intermediate schools into a modular complex in which the schools would share infrastructure but maintain separate campuses.
Campbell’s campus sits on roughly 38 acres and includes 11 major buildings, many of them two or three stories. High school administrators over the years have acquired some property from Pohakea and Ilima — two of the nine elementary and middle schools that feed into Campbell — to accommodate the school’s growing population.
But teachers say most of the the solutions are makeshift at best. Portable classrooms take over much of the campus’s remaining space, forcing administrators to resort to much-needed parking lots for additional classroom space. Campbell has already had to put some classes into renovated sheds with overhead doors.
And experts stress that such facilities are only temporary fixes that can’t replace specialty rooms such as science labs and typically lack basic amenities. According to L’Heureux, the state currently has about 1,500 portables in use at various schools and is looking to purchase 100 more.
Still, long-term solutions can be drastic and extremely costly, according to Frederick Smith, director of K-12 facilities services at the Las Vegas-based architecture firm Tate Snyder Kimsey.
“I’m not sure there’s any silver bullet,” he said.
Smith spent nearly 20 years managing facilities and construction projects for two of the largest school districts in the country: Las Vegas’ Clark County School District and the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The two districts, Smith said, have addressed rampant population growth in very different ways.
Take Clark County. In the last 16 years, its student enrollment has more than doubled, reaching about 311,000 students this past year, according to Smith.
But the district has opted to stay ahead of the growth, quickly building 180 new schools during that time and converting many of its schools to a year-round calendar, which can increase capacity by as much as 30 percent, Smith said.
But the year-round schedule has its critics — particularly among parents who say the timing makes it difficult to organize family gatherings, Smith said. At Clark County’s year-round schools, students are divided into four or five tracks that operate on a rotating sequence. At any given time, all but one of the tracks attend school. The remaining track goes on vacation. (A few Hawaii schools have adopted multi-track, year-round calendars to relieve overcrowding.)
“The problem is that some of the tracks are more attractive to parents, so they sometimes want to compete and vie for different tracks,” Smith said, adding that the system often gets confusing for parents who have kids in different grades and on various calendar systems.
The Los Angeles school district, on the other hand, wasn’t prepared for the growth. Until recently, the district hadn’t built a single school in decades, instead relying on stopgap measures — such as busing students farther to distribute enrollment and relying on portables — to alleviate the overcrowding.
In the past decade, however, the school district has invested more than $19 billion to build 130 new schools. But the initiative was difficult because the district has so little land at its disposal, according to Smith, adding that the district had to acquire land through condemnation and go through extensive environmental remediation.
“It’s a tougher situation because you have to appease an existing community,” he said. “Las Vegas was fortunate in that we have lots of vacant land … Within two years the houses just surrounded the school. We built it, and they came.”
Other solutions involve breaking up a student body into two groups — with one attending school in the morning and one in the afternoon — or changing schools’ grade configurations, such as keeping ninth graders in middle schools.
Campbell for its part has set up four additional lunch stations to alleviate traffic at the main cafeteria.
And Sen. Will Espero, whose district includes Ewa Beach, said he’s even advocated for online distant learning options. But the DOE wasn’t too keen, he said.
For many teachers at schools like Campbell, it’s the heat that can really take a toll on the learning environment.
When Civil Beat visited Campbell, it was about 87 degrees — but that was during the morning on a windy spring day. Temperatures in the area can rise to the mid-90s in the afternoons, well above the optimal learning temperature of 72 degrees.
“Nobody can (concentrate) in those kinds of conditions,” Filardo said. “What we know is that there’s absolutely a relationship between conditions in school buildings and academic performance.”
And concentration is at an all-time low during third period — the stretch directly after lunch, according to Corey Rosenlee, a social studies teacher and organizer of the Hawaii Teachers Work to the Rules movement.
“The environment for teaching is so important,” Rosenlee said. “If it’s a muggy day, you can feel it. It’s a cinderblock oven. You put 30, 40 kids in one of these classrooms, and it’s unbelievable trying to teach in that environment.”
And though some classrooms have portable fans, that’s only because teachers bought them with their own money, spending roughly $50 a pop.
Students and teachers have developed tactics to deal with the heat: bringing in wet cloths to cool off during class, slathering on deodorant multiple times a day to mask the body odor, always having an extra shirt on hand to replace any sweat-drenched clothing.
But those fixes hardly do much to improve student concentration, teachers say.
Michael Salgado, a pre-calculus teacher who used to teach in Texas, said the lack of AC at most public schools across the islands sets Hawaii apart from other states. All classrooms that he’s seen in Texas have AC, he said.
He pointed to his classroom — a retrofitted garage, with its overhead door ajar. Half of his students had their heads on their desks.
In other classrooms, opening the jalousies lets some cool air in. But the ventilation comes at the expense of noise pollution, including that from distracting lawnmowers and incessant planes, whose flight path runs directly over the school. Open windows also bring in a constant coat of dust and dirt, which can damage valuable supplies such as computers.
Planes fly over the school nearly every five minutes.
Moreover, very few water fountains on campus provide chilled water, said Dunston, the U.S. history teacher. Dunston said she gives her students time to go to air conditioned buildings to get cold water on hot days.
“A lot of learning time is wasted on trying to keep them comfortable,” said U.S. history teacher Darlene Dunston, who’s also the class advisor. “It also takes a toll on my patience.”
According to Dunston, about 20 minutes of each 82-minute class are spent on time ensuring students are comfortable and disciplined.
“It shows the level of disrespect for the students and the teachers,” Filardo said. “And it’s not lost on students and teachers — students feel that their education isn’t being valued … Air conditioning is absolutely essential.”
Only select buildings and offices at Campbell have AC, including the campus’s newest building: Saber Hall, which is devoted primarily to administrative offices and department head classrooms.
What’s most frustrating, Rosenlee said, is that the school lacks adequate AC in part because it doesn’t have the electrical capacity to support it. The school purchased some transformers to convert power the AC but is unable to connect them to the system.
“They’re the $1 million statues,” Rosenlee said, pointing to the transformers. “They’re only purpose is to be there.”
Still, few Hawaii public schools — even those in the hottest parts of the state — have AC, prompting what Rosenlee calls “the air conditioning wars.”
According to Espero, the schools’ need for air conditioning has come up time and time again at the Legislature, but limited funding and the urgency of other repair and maintenance work consistently pushes it to the bottom of the priority list.
“I’m pretty disappointed that the DOE can’t get it right,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it has a plan … Is our staff so incompetent that they can’t fix electrical problems?”
But equipping hot schools with air conditioning is one of the department’s priorities, according to L’Heureux, who stressed that many of the schools weren’t built to harness natural cooling such as wind coming off the coastline.
“(Campbell) is as much of a priority as any other school — there are dozens of other schools in the inventory” that need AC, he said. “But the common denominator for this entire process is money … we’re whittling away step by step.”
In addition to the facilities master plan, L’Heureux and his team are also working on developing an Energy Efficiency Sustainability master plan that would, theoretically, make cooler conditions a reality for schools like Campbell. The department just released the request for proposals for a management team and hopes to complete the plan within three to five years.
The department is looking to convert to alternative energy such as solar, wind and wave power. And in the interim, the department is taking preliminary measures to cool the schools down such as adjusting the lighting and painting the roofs white, L’Heureux said.
But are other factors to blame fo the state of Campbell High School? Uilani Chow-Rule, Campbell’s Parent Teacher Student Association president, and national experts argue that community involvement is vital in order to bring about change at public schools.
Campbell lacks strong parent participation, according to Chow-Rule, who said the PTSA has few members, little monetary investment and limited attendance at meetings.
“It’s very, very frustrating as large as we are to have poor turnout consistently,” Chow-Rule said. “In order for the school to be successful it not only needs support from the government — it needs support from the community … When you get the attention, you get the stuff.
“But we’ll keep it (the PTSA) on life support until we have more life coming into it,” she added.
Chow-Rule and her son, Kamalama Kaikuana, moved to Ewa Beach in 2007. Population in that area was spiraling. The demographics were shifting. What was once an area defined by plantations was becoming Oahu’s “second city.”
Maybe it’s the hodgepodge of neighborhoods and rapid development, Chow-Rule said, that makes it difficult to muster up a solid group of parents and community members to advocate for area schools.
“There’s such a diverse mix at Campbell that maybe it’s hard for community to come together,” she said. “The area is quite small, but it’s so dense with people.”
Filardo, who’s worked with schools in Washington, D.C., and other districts across the country, agreed that proactive community involvement could be the missing link.
“The middle class isn’t as invested in public schools as in some states,” she said, pointing to the high number of Hawaii students who attend private schools. “There’s a lower participation in public education.”
Filardo suggested that Ewa Beach residents get together and develop a master plan that details specific school and community needs and outlines a multi-year strategy for meeting those requirements. According to Filardo, a master plan empowers the community, giving parents a stake in the future of their children’s educational experience.
It was a master plan, Filardo said, that two decades ago prompted the renovation of a slew of Washington, D.C., schools.
“That’s what it takes — planners and educators and community people trying to solve the problem of the conditions and growth … insisting that there can be a long-range plan as well as an immediate-term plan to address the crowding,” Filardo said. “Educational planning builds social capital. It’s better for the communities.”
Still, despite the facility shortfalls, Campbell manages to excel academically.
Elton Kinoshita, one of Campbell’s seven vice principals, cited the school’s test scores, which DOE data show have soared in the past few years.
In 2005, 35 percent of the school’s 10th graders met proficiency in reading on the Hawaii State Assessment and just 9 percent met proficiency in math.
By 2012, the percentage of 10th graders who met proficiency in reading and math had risen to 58 percent and 49 percent, respectively.
And the Washington Post in its recently published “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” annual list rated Campbell the state’s sixth most challenging high school. Only two public schools — Kaiser and Kalani — ranked higher. (One of the Post’s metrics divided the number of college-level tests administered in 2012 by the number of graduates that year.)
Social studies teacher John Sullivan shows his dedication to Campbell with a tattoo bearing the school’s mascot.
Kinoshita pointed to the number of initiatives and specialized classes — including more than a dozen AP courses — that are offered at the school in addition to practices aiming to enhance student success such as block scheduling and inclusion classrooms.
The school offers a number of educational support programs geared toward ensuring students are college- and career-ready, including AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) — which primarily serves disadvantaged students in the academic middle — and Career Pathways, which allows students to focus on a particular vocational interest by by completing one of six tracks. Among the tracks are Arts and Communication, Health Services and Industrial Engineering and Technology.
Campbell is also one of five public schools in the state to offer an International Baccalaureate program.
But Kinoshita in large part attributed the school’s success to strong leadership and its large cohort of dedicated teachers. After all, it was Campbell that spawned the Teachers Work to the Rules — a movement that Kinoshita said has helped bring the school to the forefront.
“Campbell would never have gotten where it is today if it weren’t for them,” he said.