Even as total enrollment in Hawaii’s public schools dipped slightly, some of Oahu’s biggest and already overcrowded high schools continue to grow.
Campbell High School remains the largest in the state, enrolling 3,110 students this year, the fourth-straight year its student body has exceeded 3,000.
Waipahu High School grew past 2,500, Mililani High School continued to grow past 2,500 and Farrington High School and Kapolei High School student enrollment again exceeded 2,000.
Meanwhile, other Oahu high schools continued seeing declines as part of long-term trend.
Enrollment at Aiea High School in the Central District dipped below 1,000 students this year, compared to nearly 1,500 two decades ago. Moanalua High School, which 15 years ago had seen enrollment of more than 2,000, came below that number for the fourth straight year. Kaimuki High School, a Honolulu District school, only enrolled 703 students this year, a more than 50 percent decline from two decades ago.
Total enrollment in both regular public and charter schools was 179,255 — slightly down from 179,902 from last year according to enrollment figures released by Hawaii Department of Education for the 2017-18 school year.
Charter school enrollment saw a slight bump from the opening of two new schools.
The pattern of rising and falling school enrollment numbers on Oahu reflects demographic shifts. Families fleeing rising property values in Honolulu flock to west Oahu where new housing developments are sprouting up in middle-class areas like Ewa Beach, home to Campbell High School.
“If you look at our population for all schools (statewide), it’s been around 180,000 for the last 20 years straight,” noted Dann Carlson, assistant superintendent for the DOE’s school facilities and support services division.
“Our population doesn’t change, it’s the (numbers at these) locations.”
State census data shows just how much the neighborhoods that have growing school populations have exploded in recent years.
From 2000 to 2010, the Ewa neighborhood saw a 37 percent increase in population, while Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale saw a 38 percent increase. The Mililani Mauka-Launani Valley area saw even greater gains of 74 percent.
In the meantime, the Moanalua area saw a 3 percent population decline in the same 10-year time frame, while the Kaimuki neighborhood experienced a 2.7 percent decline, according to the 2016 Economic Databook by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.
“Different families living on island are now moving out here, and we’re starting to get a higher military population in the newer community-based neighborhoods,” said Shayne Greenland, one of Campbell’s assistant vice principals. “(Ewa) is a place where housing is available, people are buying houses.”
That means more students.
Campbell High was built for 1,800 students, maybe 2,000 tops, he said, but now has 1,000 students above that limit. The school has built portable classrooms to deal with overcrowding, but classes still have 35 to 40 kids per teacher.
Some relief is in sight. The school will soon break ground on a $26 million, three-story building extension with 27 new classrooms, enough to house about 900 kids. It’s expected to be ready by the 2019-20 school year.
Additionally, DOE plans to build a brand new high school, plus a feeder middle school and two elementary schools, in a new planned housing community in the Ewa-Kapolei area called Ho’opili.
“It’s to alleviate the overcrowding at both Campbell and Kapolei (high schools),” said Carlson. The department is also looking to build an extension at the latter, similar to what Campbell plans, to address overcrowding.
The planned new high school, estimated to cost $100 million, won’t be built for another five years, he said.
Kapolei High School, located west of Ewa Beach but in the same complex area and district as Campbell, opened its doors in 2000.
On Maui, DOE is also looking to build a new high school, Kihei High School. The new school isn’t being built to alleviate overcrowding, but to provide a closer option for many students.
“You talk to communities out there, people are on buses for long periods of time,” Carlson said. “There’s only so much and so fast you can drive. The distances the kids have to go — there is nothing in that central Maui area.”
DOE schools receive funding based on the amount of students they enroll. Campbell got $14.4 million in funding this year while Mililani and Waipahu received more than $11 million each in funding. Kaimuki, in contrast, got $3.8 million this school year.
Some schools with a shrinking student population, like Kaimuki High, are looking to lure more students through innovative programs, partnerships and geographic exemptions.
Sean Wong, principal at Roosevelt High School, which is located in the Honolulu district, said during his three years at the school enrollment has stayed mostly level at around 1,300 kids. About 28 percent of his students are enrolled through a geographic exemption, lured by the school’s strong academic track record, music program and STEM curriculum, he said.
Having state funding based on the number of students serves as ” encouragement” to school leaders, Carlson said.
“They make more money if they have more students,” he said. “It works to their benefit. They’re all trying to do different things.”