Three years after Ka ʻUmeke Kaʻeo held its first high school graduation, the Big Island charter school has announced plans to temporarily suspend its high school program for the coming school year.

Ka ʻUmeke has been a charter school since 2001. It expanded from an elementary and middle school to a kindergarten through 12th grade school a few years ago, but has struggled with low enrollment numbers in its upper grades.

“We were having students leave, and we really wanted to take stock in why that was,” Administrator Olani Lilly said.

Students during morning opening protocol at the Ka 'Umeke Ka'eo charter school in 2013.
Students during morning opening protocol at the Ka ‘Umeke Ka’eo charter school in 2013. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Last year the school enrolled a total of 25 students in grades nine though 12. The school had more students on average in each elementary school grade than in all four high school grades combined.

The school intends to spend the 2016-17 school year developing new community partnerships and working on a plan for reconfiguring the high school program.

Ka ʻUmeke will help parents and students find an alternative school next year, Lilly said. The school plans on staying in touch with the students over the course of the year and hopes to engage the families in the planning process.

“While they are going to be going to a different school, we don’t feel they are moving away from us,” Lilly said. 

Civil Beat profiled the school in its 2013 series, “Learning Hilo.”

The school will need to get approval for its plans to temporarily cut the high school grades from the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission, but the process is mostly a formality.

Ka ʻUmeke also announced Thursday that the school is a semi-finalist for XQ: The Super School Project — a national grant competition to “rethink and redesign the American high school.”

The charter school plans to resume its high school classes whether or not it wins the competition, Lilly said.

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