Jessica Terrell – Honolulu Civil Beat https://www.civilbeat.org Honolulu Civil Beat - Investigative Reporting Thu, 21 Mar 2019 03:22:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 Pod Squad: Meet Mazie Hirono’s Republican Opponent https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/10/pod-squad-meet-mazie-hironos-republican-opponent/ Mon, 15 Oct 2018 10:01:16 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1304312 Democrats are so dominant in Hawaii politics that one might think U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono faces no opponent in the Nov. 6 general election. In fact, Ron Curtis is the Republican challenger. He joins Pod Squad host Chad Blair via telephone from the Garden Island to make a pitch for his candidacy. Subscribe to the […]

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Democrats are so dominant in Hawaii politics that one might think U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono faces no opponent in the Nov. 6 general election.

In fact, Ron Curtis is the Republican challenger. He joins Pod Squad host Chad Blair via telephone from the Garden Island to make a pitch for his candidacy.

U.S. Senate contender Ron Curtis hopes to unseat longtime politician Mazie Hirono in November.

Courtesy

Subscribe to the Civil Beat Pod Squad on iTunes or Stitcher.

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‘Offshore’ Podcast Returns With A Young Man On An Urgent Mission https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/04/offshore-podcast-returns-with-a-young-man-on-an-urgent-mission/ Mon, 16 Apr 2018 10:01:15 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1276493 Susette Lewis didn’t have a lot of time to ask questions. The Florida woman had only been in Hawaii a few hours when she parked her rental car near baggage claim at Honolulu International Airport, and walked over to meet several adoption agents standing near the curb with a young Marshallese woman and her child. […]

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Susette Lewis didn’t have a lot of time to ask questions.

The Florida woman had only been in Hawaii a few hours when she parked her rental car near baggage claim at Honolulu International Airport, and walked over to meet several adoption agents standing near the curb with a young Marshallese woman and her child.

Lewis had pictured an adoption hand-off taking place in a quiet hospital room or a well-lit office. A place where she could hold her new child and make him feel comfortable, spend a few private moments with his birth mother.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a nation of low-lying coral atolls in the western Pacific Ocean.

Instead, she had just a few minutes surrounded by the noise and chaos of an airport to try and ask questions through an interpreter.

“I remember embracing her and just telling her, ‘Thank you,’” Lewis says. “And that I would love and take care him. But how do you even say that to someone?”

It was 1992, and Lewis was one of the first Americans to adopt a child through a Hawaii-based adoption agency that had just started operating in the Marshall Islands. By 1999, more than a dozen American adoption agencies were working in the Marshall Islands, and the remote island nation had one of the highest per-capita adoption rates in the world.

In just a few years, more than 500 children were adopted from the far-flung atolls — a staggering number in a country of roughly 68,000.

London Lewis, 25, is on a mission to find his birth parents and explore his Marshallese culture. He grew up in Florida with adoptive mom Susette Lewis, right.

Jessica Terrell/Civil Beat

Two decades later, some of those children are beginning to search for answers about who they are and where they come from. Some, like 25-year-old London Lewis, grew up without knowing a single person from their native country.

Civil Beat reporters connected with London Lewis last spring, after he posted in a Facebook group asking for help finding his birth family. Around the same time, doctors in Hawaii began voicing concerns about a resurgence of Marshallese adoptions taking place under suspicious circumstances in Hawaii.

Season 3 of Civil Beat’s “Offshore” podcast delves into concerns surrounding Marshallese adoptions in Hawaii and Arkansas today, and follows Lewis as he searches for his birth family, his history, and his culture.

A child plays near an under-construction seawall in Majuro.

Jessica Terrell / Civil Beat

Lewis may not have a lot of time to find answers. The Marshall Islands have been transformed in recent decades by a massive wave of out-migration, and rising sea levels are already impacting life on the low-lying atolls.

The tenuous future of the Marshall Islands has made connecting with Marshallese culture an urgent mission — not only for adoptees like Lewis, but for an entire generation of young Marshallese-Americans. And it’s raised the stakes for regulating an adoption market that has followed the Marshallese on their journey across the United States.

How do you find your identity, how do you hold onto your culture, when your homeland is in danger of disappearing?

 

Offshore’s first season, “A Killing In Waikiki,” explored issues of race and power through two of Hawaii’s most infamous court cases — the Massie case in 1931 and the Deedy case in 2011. In both instances, a Native Hawaiian was killed by a white person in a position of power.

Season 2 of Offshore, “The Sacred Mountain,” took listeners to the summit of Mauna Kea and delved into the ongoing conflict over constructing the world’s largest telescope atop Hawaii’s tallest mountain.

“Offshore” is available now on iTunes, RadioPublic, Stitcher and anywhere you listen to podcasts.

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Ige: State Looking For Land To Relocate Waianae Encampment https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/03/ige-state-looking-for-land-to-relocate-waianae-encampment/ Thu, 15 Mar 2018 10:01:53 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1272273 For years, Twinkle Borge and members of the Waianae Boat Harbor homeless community have been working to transform their makeshift village into something more: a stable refuge. Now, just a week after the state appeared poised to sweep the camp, their dream of gaining a more permanent status for the community appears to be gaining traction […]

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For years, Twinkle Borge and members of the Waianae Boat Harbor homeless community have been working to transform their makeshift village into something more: a stable refuge.

Now, just a week after the state appeared poised to sweep the camp, their dream of gaining a more permanent status for the community appears to be gaining traction in the governor’s office.

Gov. David Ige said Wednesday that his office is actively looking for vacant land in the Waianae area that might be suitable for the encampment to relocate to.

Gov David Ige interviewed about the recent talk with Waianae Boat Harbor’s Twinkle Borge.

Gov. David Ige said Wednesday he is committed to working with Twinkle Borge to relocate the large homeless community living near the Waianae Boat Harbor.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ige voiced his support for relocating the encampment, known as Puuhonua O Waianae, a day after he met privately with Borge and assured her that the state would not conduct a sweep of the state-owned land where the camp sits.

“Hopefully we will be able to find a solution and help Twinkle and that community transition smoothly to a more sustainable location,” Ige said.

The meeting with Borge did not signal a change of heart, Ige said, but rather an opportunity to clarify miscommunications.

The governor contradicted other state officials on a couple of key points in an interview with Civil Beat on Wednesday: whether there were plans for an imminent sweep and whether the state was facing a deadline to apply for a federal grant to establish an education center at the site in place of the homeless encampment.

A representative from the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the state’s homeless coordinator announced plans at a Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board meeting March 6 to clear the Waianae Boat Harbor land by June. A proposed timeline for the site obtained by Civil Beat outlined potential enforcement of criminal trespassing laws starting in May.

But Ige insists that no sweep was planned.

“They had tried to express that there was no specific enforcement intended at this time but it wasn’t received in that manner,” Ige said.

Click here to watch a video of the neighborhood board meeting.

Waianae Supports Puuhonua

About 210 people currently live in tents and makeshift structures on state land adjacent to the Waianae Boat Harbor. Unlike encampments in urban Honolulu however, Puuhonua has garnered a lot of support from the surrounding community.

Ige said people living in the Waianae area had been reaching out to his office over the past few weeks to express concern about the possibility of a sweep.

“People had expressed to me that that wouldn’t be a good thing to happen right now,” Ige said.

Public tours walk near the cave systems at Waianae Boat Harbor that contain 'opae ula' or shrimp.

Visitors on a recent tour of Puuhonua walk near the cave systems. Hundreds signed up to visit the encampment.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The meeting between Borge and Ige was held at the home of legendary Hawaiian surfer and original Hokulea crew member Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana, after his wife, Momi Keaulana, reached out to a member of the Board of Land and Natural Resources to discuss the possible sweep.

“They don’t cause any trouble,” Momi Keaulana told Civil Beat on Wednesday. “They make rules and regulations. From the outside it looks like a big mess. Inside it’s very clean.”

Keaulana said she was grateful that Ige came to her Nanakuli home to meet with Borge.

“I told the governor, actually you know these are human beings and the Hawaiians are really being pushed around,” Keaulana said.

Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board member Kellen Smith said that supporters of Puuhonua are not waiting for the state to find a solution.

Smith and others involved with Dynamic Community Solutions, a nonprofit created on behalf of the encampment, are looking for land to relocate people to, including private land.

“It’s not like we’re just waiting for the state to fix it,” Smith said.

Businesses in Waianae that have expressed interest in building shelters or adding solar panels to the current camp are reluctant to invest time and money if a sweep is imminent, Smith said. With a site secured, he anticipates some businesses wouldn’t hesitate to donate their time and resources to build infrastructure and homes.

Ige says he wants to encourage that kind of initiative.

“The only way that we can eliminate homelessness in Hawaii is if the entire community takes responsibility and tries to do their part,” he said.

Questions Remain

Finding a suitable site for Puuhonua could prove challenging. It would need to have basic infrastructure like water and electricity, Ige said, and also be close to public transportation.

Ige said state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige has been working with Borge and looking for alternative sites for more than a year. Morishige had been meeting with leaders from Puuhonua monthly, but those meetings stopped sometime last year.

 

“The most important thing I think is that Twinkle and I met and we committed to each other that we would work together to see if we can find the solution,” Ige said.

Twinkle Borge is the longtime leader of Puuhonua.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Borge said Wednesday that she would continue to look for alternative sites as well.

Even if a sweep isn’t imminent, “that doesn’t mean we will stay there,” Borge said.

Smith of the neighborhood board said state officials have been “wishy-washy” about their plans for the camp.

“To me it seems a bit whimsical,” Smith said. “Whatever the pressure is, however direction the wind is blowing, that’s kind of how they make decisions.”

The lack of communication about the issue has diminished the community’s trust in the state, Smith said.

Conflicting Messages About Grant

Morishige told the Neighborhood Board earlier this month that the state needed to clear the Waianae Boat Harbor because state plans to transform the property into a marine education center were dependent on federal grant funding. Morishige said the grant deadline was in June and the property had to be vacant before the state could apply.

On Wednesday, however, Ige said that there was no federal grant application pending.

The Harbor

“There have been programs in the past that we believed the project would qualify for,” Ige said. “But there isn’t a current federal posting that we would be eligible to pursue at this point in time.”

Short of offering an alternative parcel, Smith said the state can help homeless families by turning the water back on at a spigot near the camp. The DLNR shut off the water in November for a construction project, leaving homeless families searching for alternative sources of water to bathe and wash their clothes. The spigots were expected to be turned back on at the end of December but are still off.

Neighborhood board member and Puuhonua supporter Ken Koike said the board is still planning to hold a special meeting about Puuhonua on Thursday night.

“The crisis is far from over,” Koike said. “Everyone who has seen political promises broken in their lifetime recognizes how fragile this entire situation is.”

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

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Homeless Leaders Say Waianae Sweep Called Off For Now https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/03/homeless-leaders-say-waianae-sweep-called-off-for-now/ Wed, 14 Mar 2018 06:10:13 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1272024 Leaders of the Waianae Boat Harbor homeless encampment known as Puuhonua O Waianae say that Gov. David Ige met with them Tuesday and pledged that there will be no sweep of the camp. “They are going to work together with us to see if we can find another property and just go from there,” said […]

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Leaders of the Waianae Boat Harbor homeless encampment known as Puuhonua O Waianae say that Gov. David Ige met with them Tuesday and pledged that there will be no sweep of the camp.

“They are going to work together with us to see if we can find another property and just go from there,” said James Pakele, a Waianae resident and Puuhonua O Waianae volunteer who was at the meeting.

Pakele said the meeting took place in Nanakuli at the home of Hawaiian surfing legend and original Hokulea crew member Richard “Buffalo” Keaulana.

The governor’s office declined to comment or confirm the meeting, but a photo of Ige with camp leader Twinkle Borge was posted on Facebook Tuesday night.

“I can confirm that our office continues to meet with members of the community,” said Cindy McMillan, communications director for Ige.

The meeting came one week after a representative of the Department of Land and Natural Resources and state homeless coordinator Scott Morishige made a surprise announcement that the state planned to clear the land where the encampment sits by June in order to make room for a marine education center.

Morishige’s announcement drew swift condemnation from members of the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board, who said the community needed to be given more of an opportunity to weigh in on such a big decision.

The Harbor

People have been living in tents and makeshift structures on state-owned land bordering the Waianae Boat Harbor for more than a decade. The unique community is self-governed, has established rules, and has even obtained nonprofit status — part of an ongoing effort by camp leaders to show that they are part of the solution to the state’s homeless crisis, not the problem.

“This is our home,” Borge told a group of about 40 residents of the encampment Tuesday afternoon.

People lined up to embrace her after she shared the news that a sweep was off the table. Some people applauded. One woman wiped away tears.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Borge said. “I feel very blessed.”

According to Pakele and Borge, the governor did not say their community could stay permanently on the land. Instead, he promised that his administration would work with them to find a path forward — without the threat of an impending eviction.

“We get a seat at the table and to be part of the discussion,” Pakele said. “Up until now a lot of the discussions have not included people from the village who are going to be affected.”

Borge says her community has been actively looking for land where they can relocate. Her goal is for people in the camp to be able to move somewhere together and remain a community.

Although the state has pivoted on its plans with the encampment before, Borge and Pakele said they are hopeful that the governor’s commitment to them will stand.

“He is working with us,” Borge said. “I told him straight up, we can help each other.”

The Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board  is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss Puuhonua O Waianae.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

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State Plans To Sweep Longtime Homeless Camp At Waianae Boat Harbor https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/03/state-plans-to-sweep-longtime-homeless-camp-at-waianae-boat-harbor/ Thu, 08 Mar 2018 10:01:26 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1271286 It was news that homeless advocates have been dreading for years: After more than a decade of letting people camp on undeveloped land near the Waianae Boat Harbor, the state is now moving forward with plans to clear Hawaii’s most well-established homeless community by May or June. State officials announced their intention to relocate residents […]

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It was news that homeless advocates have been dreading for years: After more than a decade of letting people camp on undeveloped land near the Waianae Boat Harbor, the state is now moving forward with plans to clear Hawaii’s most well-established homeless community by May or June.

State officials announced their intention to relocate residents of the camp, known as Puuhonua O Waianae, at Tuesday’s Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board meeting, just weeks after saying publicly that fears in the community over an impending sweep were unfounded.

State homeless coordinator Scott Morishige and Pua Aiu of the Department of Land and Natural Resources said at the meeting their goal is to transfer the property to the Department of Education for use as a marine education center.

Aunty Twinkle Borge receives a hug during open house held at Puuhonua O Waianae/Waianae Boat Harbor.

Twinkle Borge, the leader of Puuhonua O Waianae, gets a hug during an open house held at the encampment last month.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“We are looking at a number of different options in order to try to find housing for the people there, including looking for available land,” Morishige told the neighborhood board. “Our goal is to try and transition individuals from that property by early June.”

Morishige and Aiu faced sharp criticism during the meeting from Waianae residents and neighborhood board members, who said the state is failing to take community needs into consideration and has not been transparent about its intentions.

“This just seems totally shady,” board member Ken Koike told Morishige and Aiu. “The whole thing, especially this being an election year, seems like really bad timing.”

An Organized Community

Roughly 200 people currently live in tents and makeshift structures on state-owned land bordering the Waianae Boat Harbor.

The community is self-governed, and has been cited by state and local lawmakers in recent years as a potential model for homeless safe zones in other parts of the state. Last month, more than 500 people signed up for tours of the unique encampment during a community event organized by residents.

Many of the people living in Puuhonua, which means “sanctuary” in Hawaiian, have cycled in and out of homeless shelters. In Waianae, they have found a measure of stability that has allowed many to get back on their feet, says Twinkle Borge, the camp’s leader.

“The village is a safe and stable place to live,” Borge said at a press conference last month aimed at staving off a sweep. “We want to dialogue with people to make a decision about our future. We want to keep our ohana together as much as possible. We are open to exploring all options including relocation.”

Morshige’s office was meeting monthly with Borge and residents of the Waianae camp, but those meetings stopped sometime last year.

Borge said her community, which is now a registered nonprofit with the IRS, is scrambling to find another piece of land that it can move to. But she said six months to a year is a more practical timeline for relocating close to 200 people.

The Harbor

DLNR officials have long expressed concerns over the impact of the encampment on natural resources, including a rare shrimp found in the area.

Borge says she brought in a biologist to teach people in the camp how to protect the shrimp, after asking unsuccessfully for training from DLNR.

The agency is under a deadline to take action because its plan for the property hinges on federal funding and the land has to be cleared and restored before the state can apply for a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Morishige said.

Borge and her supporters say they’ve asked repeatedly for concrete details on the grant requirements, and are worried that other forces may be at play.

“We think it is possible that the timeline is driven by the upcoming primary election and not any federal grant requirements,” said Waianae resident and Puuhonua supporter James Pakele.

Aiu said the state wants to work with Borge to transition people into housing and avoid a sweep. But the state could close the property and begin enforcing criminal trespassing laws as early as May, it indicated in a timeline presented to legislators in a closed-door meeting Feb. 22, according to documents obtained by Civil Beat.

“I hope something will change,” Borge said. “I am worried. I’ve had many sleepless nights. I am experiencing a lot of anxieties.”

Surprise Appearance

Morishige and Aiu were not on the agenda to speak at Tuesday’s neighborhood board meeting, a fact that that drew the ire of some board members and the other attendees.

The encampment has been an important issue in the community for more than 10 years, said Waianae resident and former state representative Jo Jordan. Community members should have been given notice that plans were going to be presented so they had an opportunity to comment.

“Our community does deserve that transparency,” Jordan said.

Morishige said he didn’t know until Feb. 28 — after the deadline for adding items to the meeting agenda — that they would be attending.

But addressing the neighborhood board was one of several steps that Morishige and Aiu outlined for clearing the land in a document distributed privately to state lawmakers Feb. 22, six days before the deadline to add items to the neighborhood board agenda.

Puuhonua O Waianae welcome sign near Aunty Twinkle's area.

A welcome sign at Puuhonua O Waianae.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Morishige said he will present plans for the property to the Board of Land and Natural Resources on March 23 for approval. The meeting is open to the public.

On Tuesday night, neighborhood board members asked Morishige and Aiu to return next month with a more formal presentation, and to delay the BLNR meeting until the Waianae community had more opportunity to weigh in.

“If this does go as as you folks are planning, just be prepared for the resistance of this community,” board member Kaukaohu Wahilani said. “Because this is gonna tear our community up big time.”

“The governor’s office and the Dept. of Land and Natural Resources continue to work with the members of the community on a solution to this long-standing issue,” Cindy McMillan, the communications director for Gov. David Ige, said in a written statement Wednesday. “At this point, we have nothing further to add to the information that was presented last night.”

Morishige did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment. DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward declined to comment.

On Feb. 14, Ward emailed a statement to Civil Beat stating that the agency had “no immediate plans to sweep the people.”

The statement went on:

The Department notes that we have been in communication with the Wai‘anae encampment leadership over the past two years and we have been consistent in our message that they would need to move off this property.

Ward wrote that DLNR wants “to create a Marine Science Learning Center to include the unique ecosystem that exists on this property as well as nearshore marine ecosystems … This property has the potential to become a natural functioning teaching ecosystem that will provide educational and learning benefits for the Wai‘anae community and students statewide.”

It’s a vision that didn’t impress some neighborhood board members Tuesday night as they vowed to resist a sweep of the encampment if necessary.

“If they try to sweep, we should just show up and stop them,” board member Kellen Smith said.

Thoughts on this or any other story? We’re replacing comments with a new letters column. Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes.

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Offshore: When Hawaii Welcomed A Nuclear Blast https://www.civilbeat.org/2018/02/offshore-when-hawaii-welcomed-a-nuclear-blast/ Tue, 06 Feb 2018 10:01:07 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1267446 After last month’s nuclear scare,  it’s hard to imagine anyone in Hawaii  — let alone thousands of people — looking forward to a nuclear explosion. But that’s exactly what happened in the summer of 1962, when Hawaii had a very different kind of brush with nuclear weapons. Just a few months before the Cuban Missile […]

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After last month’s nuclear scare,  it’s hard to imagine anyone in Hawaii  — let alone thousands of people — looking forward to a nuclear explosion.

But that’s exactly what happened in the summer of 1962, when Hawaii had a very different kind of brush with nuclear weapons.

Just a few months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States conducted a series of high altitude nuclear tests off Johnston Island, a coral atoll about 800 miles west of Oahu.

Newspaper photographers captured the afterglow of the blast from Punchbowl.

newspapers.com / Pipi Wakayama/ The Honolulu Advertiser

People in Hawaii were so excited to witness the blast that hotels in Waikiki planned watch parties, families lined up in parks and on beaches to find a good viewing spot, and newspapers printed viewing guides.

“It’s sort of a testament to American propagandists, that you could turn such a destructive force into visual majesty in a way that would get celebrated,” says Suzanna Reiss, a historian and associate professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Travel back in time with Civil Beat’s Offshore podcast to hear about the detonation from one of the reporters who covered the tests, and a beauty pageant contestant who made headlines for opposing them.

Listen to the episode below, or click here to download the show in iTunes.

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On Campus: We’re Taking A Fresh Look At Education In Hawaii https://www.civilbeat.org/2017/10/on-campus-were-taking-a-fresh-look-at-education-in-hawaii/ Thu, 05 Oct 2017 10:01:09 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1252014 In August, 14 teachers and 311 students in Wahiawa embarked on an exciting and  challenging adventure: launching a brand new school. Kamalani Academy, one of two new charter schools approved by the state in 2016, opened its doors Aug. 7. It was a big day for parents, for Civil Beat — and we hope for our […]

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In August, 14 teachers and 311 students in Wahiawa embarked on an exciting and  challenging adventure: launching a brand new school.

Kamalani Academy, one of two new charter schools approved by the state in 2016, opened its doors Aug. 7. It was a big day for parents, for Civil Beat — and we hope for our readers.

News organizations often spend time covering the outcomes of classroom reform efforts, but it’s rare for reporters to have both the time and the unfettered access they need to follow big education initiatives from the beginning.

That’s what we’re doing this year at Kamalani Academy, through a podcast series we’re calling “On Campus.”

This education podcast is part of an ongoing effort to make audio reporting a bigger part of what we do in the newsroom.

For the last four months, Civil Beat reporters have been spending a lot of time in central Oahu getting to know teachers and parents at Kamalani Academy. They were there when school founders did the final walkthrough of the campus with construction crews, when teachers reported for their first paid day of work, and when parents dropped their kids off for the first time.

Hawaii’s public school system has made some big strides in the last decade, but it still has a pretty poor reputation. The state struggles with high teacher turnover, outdated classroom facilities and meeting the needs of special education students. This year, the publication Edweek gave Hawaii a grade of D+ for educational achievement.

These challenges have created a big demand for alternatives, including private schools and charter schools. That’s what Kuuipo Laumatia, a Native Hawaiian mother of 10, found when she started pitching her idea for a new charter school to local families.

When Laumatia told parents she was going to create a school where learning would be individualized and fun, where kids would learn about Hawaiian culture and teachers would use art and music to teach core subjects like science and math, a lot of parents immediately said, “Where do I sign up?”

Kamalani opened with an enrollment of 311 students. Another 200 children were on a waiting list.

A banner hangs at the Kamalani Academy school site during construction.

April Estrellon/Civil Beat

Charter schools are public schools. They are funded with taxpayer money, and they have to abide by academic and financial standards set by the state and federal departments of education.

But they also operate with a lot more autonomy than traditional public schools. That freedom is supposed to pay dividends for all taxpayers — not just charter school parents.

Charters, at least in Hawaii, were meant to serve as laboratories for innovation. Places where teachers and administrators can experiment and take risks, create new programs that, if successful, could then be replicated at other public schools to improve the entire system.

It hasn’t always worked out that way. Charter schools in Hawaii often operate in a silo, and have limited support from the Department of Education.

So this year at Civil Beat, we’re going to try and take on a school project in the original spirit of the charter school law. We’re going to spend a lot of time in the education “lab” at Kamalani. See what works and what doesn’t as Kamalani staff try out some pretty bold ideas. And then we’re going to see how those experiments relate to what’s happening in public school classrooms across the state.

Kuuipo Laumatia waves at the crowd at Kamalani Academy’s open house. The mother of 10 is a founder of the new charter school in Wahiawa.

April Estrellon/Civil Beat

The founders of Kamalani Academy have big plans for their school, and see a need for arts-integration schools with a focus on local culture in other states and countries. Laumatia envisions a Kamalani Academy one day in Nevada, a state with a large community of Native Hawaiians. Perhaps even someday there might be a Kamalani Academy in New Zealand, says Laumatia, who is part-Maori.

Many challenges stand in their way. Hawaii charter schools face a number of hurdles, including a lack of facility funding that many charter school leaders say is crippling. And it’s no easy task developing a robust and safe campus climate with all new teachers and students.

What does it take to build something like this from the ground up?

Civil Beat will be tagging along with Kamalani staff on their journey, posting periodical podcasts throughout the school year. Check our On Campus page for updates.

We will be there to chronicle the school’s succcesses, but we’re also going to examine the struggles they will undoubtedly face in their first year.

We hope you’ll join us.

Listen to the first episode of On Campus below, or download it in on iTunes.

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Date Set In Deedy Appeal https://www.civilbeat.org/2016/12/date-set-in-deedy-appeal/ Fri, 16 Dec 2016 03:02:19 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1216727 The Hawaii Supreme Court is getting closer to deciding if Special Agent Christopher Deedy can be tried a third time for the death of Kollin Elderts. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Feb. 2 about whether a third trial would constitute double jeopardy. Deedy, an agent with the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security […]

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The Hawaii Supreme Court is getting closer to deciding if Special Agent Christopher Deedy can be tried a third time for the death of Kollin Elderts.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Feb. 2 about whether a third trial would constitute double jeopardy.

Deedy, an agent with the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, shot and killed Kollin Elderts in a Waikiki McDonald’s in 2011.

Special Agent Christopher Deedy was acquitted of murder in 2014, but could face a third trial for manslaughter.

Special Agent Christopher Deedy was acquitted of murder in 2014, but could face a third trial for manslaughter.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Deedy has stood trial twice for Elderts’ death. The first trial in 2013, for second-degree murder, ended in a hung jury. Jurors in that trial was not allowed to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter.

In Deedy’s second trial, Deedy faced charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. The jury acquitted Deedy of murder, but hung on the manslaughter charge.

The judge in Deedy’s case ruled that prosecutors could bring Deedy back for a third trial on the manslaughter charge, but Deedy’s lawyers appealed. Details about the appeal and the arguments from both sides regarding double jeopardy are posted on the Supreme Court docket.

Civil Beat recently published a 10-episode podcast series about the case in partnership with Public Radio Exchange. The series also examines national issues surrounding use of force, Hawaii history and race relations.

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Hawaii Charter School Commission Is Under The Microscope https://www.civilbeat.org/2016/08/hawaii-charter-school-commission-is-under-the-microscope/ Wed, 17 Aug 2016 05:37:12 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1201094 Members of a Hawaii Board of Education committee tasked with investigating the State Public Charter School Commission are recommending a more formal review of the agency’s performance after finding a “pattern of well-founded complaints” from charter school leaders. The committee is “primarily concerned with why there are consistently similar complaints from a large number of charter school leaders […]

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Members of a Hawaii Board of Education committee tasked with investigating the State Public Charter School Commission are recommending a more formal review of the agency’s performance after finding a “pattern of well-founded complaints” from charter school leaders.

The committee is “primarily concerned with why there are consistently similar complaints from a large number of charter school leaders and why there is a seeming disconnect between the perceptions of these leaders and those of the Commission,” it stated in a report.

The recommendation comes more than seven months after the BOE formed an investigative committee to decide if a review of the Commission was warranted. The full board is expected to vote on the committee’s recommendation at a meeting in September.

Queen Liliuokalani Building. Board of Education offices. 16 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Board of Education oversees the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Lawmakers created the Charter School Commission in 2012 as part of a broad overhaul of regulations aimed at strengthening academic and financial oversight of the schools. The BOE oversees the commission, but has not previously undertaken a formal evaluation.

BOE members conducted three listening tour events with charter schools in November and December.

Charter school leaders said then that the commission had been overburdening schools with reporting requirements, not doing enough to support the schools and failing to clearly communicate. Many expressed frustration with the new school contracts, which they felt were too uniform when they should be negotiated more individually with schools.

Charter School Commission members were not asked to attend the listening tour and did not get a chance to respond to complaints before the BOE published a report on the tour.

The BOE committee has since met with members of the Charter School Commission and its staff, but has not altered its position on the complaints of school leaders.

Despite months of discussions, the committee said that it “cannot report with confidence that the Commission will adequately and fully address the concerns, whether real or perceived, of charter school leaders.”

A BOE review of the commission would take four months, according to a special review process approved by the board in May.

The Charter School Commission used the criteria laid out in the BOE’s special review process to conduct its own performance evaluation this summer.

According to its own evaluation, the commission is meeting 17 out of 23 performance measures and partially meeting another four. The evaluation found the commission lacking in terms of having an adequate budget and having “strategic vision and organizational goals.”

“While the Commission’s mission is clearly established, there does not seem to be full alignment of vision between the Board of Education, Legislature, Commission, and charter schools regarding the vision for Hawaii’s charter schools and the role of the Commission,” the evaluation stated. “With an aligned vision, the Commission can better create a comprehensive strategic plan with goals and timeframes.”

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How Can We Improve Hawaii Schools? https://www.civilbeat.org/2016/05/how-can-we-improve-hawaii-schools/ Thu, 26 May 2016 10:06:19 +0000 http://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1187522 Have an idea for how to improve public education in Hawaii? The Department of Education is asking for public input as it undergoes a review of its multi-year strategic plan — a document that lays out goals for public education in Hawaii. So far more than 700 people have completed the DOE-supported online survey, which is being conducted by […]

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Have an idea for how to improve public education in Hawaii?

The Department of Education is asking for public input as it undergoes a review of its multi-year strategic plan — a document that lays out goals for public education in Hawaii.

So far more than 700 people have completed the DOE-supported online survey, which is being conducted by the nonprofit Hope Street Group. Others are submitting posts weighing in on everything from classroom conditions to early childhood education and class sizes.

The strategic plan review coincides with state and national changes that could have a real impact on local classrooms.

Late last year federal lawmakers voted to replace the much-loathed No Child Left Behind Act with a new law, dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act, aimed at giving more autonomy and flexibility back to state and local school districts.

With the prospect of federal requirements loosening a bit, Gov. David Ige created an ESSA team last month to examine the law and “develop a blueprint for Hawaii’s public schools.”

Waikele Elementary school kids raising hands1. 19 april 2016.

The Department of Education is in the midst of reevaluating its strategic plan for public education.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Heading the governor’s team is Darrel Galera, a retired public school principal and executive director of the Education Institute of Hawaii, an education think-tank focused on school empowerment.

Galera helped organize a group of educators in 2014 calling for a change of leadership and organizational overhaul of the Department of Education.

In what Hawaii News Now pointed out was a rather “high profile snub,” Ige did not appoint DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi to the task force.

The biggest change in Hawaii so far under the new federal law has been in teacher evaluations. The Board of Education decided last week that it would no longer require student test scores be used to measure teacher effectiveness.

The evaluation system has been a big source of contention among teachers. So much so that current HSTA leadership campaigned, at least in part, on getting rid of the EES altogether.

The deadline for members of the public to submit comments through the DOE survey is May 31.

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