The principal of one of Hawaii’s newest charter schools resigned Monday amid ongoing struggles with teacher turnover and staff morale.

Kamalani Academy in Wahiawa opened in August. In its inaugural year, more than half of Kamalani’s 14 teachers left the school.

The school’s governing board informed staff and parents of Jeff Vilardi’s resignation in an email Monday. Amanda Langston, the school’s student services coordinator, will take over as interim principal.

“We want to thank Jeff for leading Kamalani to a successful first year. We wish him the best as he departs to his next venture,” the email said.

Former Kamalani Academy Principal Jeff Vilardi, center, at a teacher training event on Aug. 1, 2017. April Estrellon/Civil Beat

Vilardi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Civil Beat has been chronicling the first year of Kamalani Academy as part of an ongoing podcast series, “On Campus.”

Steve Davidson, vice chair of the Kamalani’s governing board, told Civil Beat that Vilardi resigned voluntarily Monday morning “for his own reasons.”

With the start of classes roughly a month away, the school doesn’t have much time to search for a permanent replacement.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but opening our first year was a challenge,” Davidson said. “We’re very confident that we will go into year two in good shape.”

Kamalani opened with an enrollment of 311 students, as Oahu’s first arts integration public charter school. The school’s founder and governing board chair, Kuuipo Laumatia, envisioned Kamalani as a Hawaiian-focused school that would integrate arts and music throughout the curriculum to teach core subjects like science and math.

Davidson said the school recently joined the prestigious Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education. The program provides support and teacher training for school arts programs.

But Kamalani struggled early on with teacher turnover. There were several losses to the staff in just the first few months of the school year. And by winter break, at least 16 students also left the school.

Conversations with former and current Kamalani teachers this week reveal an environment of increasing frustration with Vilardi and the Kamalani administration.

Teachers said the school didn’t provide them the necessary support to succeed at teaching arts integration and Hawaiian culture — both new concepts for the majority of Kamalani’s staff.

Parents at Kamalani also expressed concern with the lack of Hawaiian focus during the school’s first year.

The school is currently working on a strategic planning document to address some of these concerns.

In a board of director’s meeting in May, Laumatia, the school’s founder, expressed concern after looking through student surveys that the middle school “was not joyful.”

Last week, a text sent to former Kamalani teachers asked them to share, “anything you found wrong with the admin aka the principal.”

The text, sent to Civil Beat by a Kamalani teacher, said that Kamalani staff would be meeting with a representative from the state teachers union and a third party, and also notifying the school’s governing board.

“This is to help Kamalani students, school and staff. We need a change, and you can be of help,” the text said.

Mike Turman, a Kamalani parent and former member of the school’s governing board, says he has voiced his concerns to current board members about Vilardi’s conduct as principal.

“I don’t want to see the school fail. I believe in the fundamental core beliefs of the school,” Turman said. “I just think that the hiring process went askew and we got the wrong person in there.”

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