HAAS looks to expand to Ka‘u


Hawaii Academy of Arts & Science is looking to expand its online learning program to a facility in Pahala.

The state Public Charter School Commission’s Performance & Accountability Committee on Thursday will discuss a request by the Pahoa-based HAAS to pursue adding a satellite location at Pahala Hongwanji.

The full commission is expected to take up the request in August.

“We have had a lot of recent demand for our online program, especially in rural areas,” HAAS Principal Steve Hirakami said. “We’re looking for temporary, or part-time, office space out there (in Pahala). … This would be our only site outside of Pahoa, although we’ve got students taking the classes all over the place, in Kona, Ka‘u, Honokaa.”

The online nature of the HAAS program allows students to attend classes from home and other locations over the Internet, Hirakami said, although students are required to meet with their teacher occasionally for “face-to-face time,” as well as for testing.

“We’re wanting to provide our students in one area with a place, rather than taking that long drive,” he said.

According to the request submitted to the Charter School Commission, the HAAS site addition would be effective no sooner than Aug. 1, and could serve up to 35 students during the coming school year.

“This is all in an exploratory phase at this point. No commitments have been made, no teachers have been hired. A lot of that is depending on demand. We just have a handful of students in the area at the moment. … Even if we had 35, you’d be lucky to have five out of the 35 at the facility on a given day. It’s all virtual; this is not a traditional brick-and-mortar school,” he said.

A handful of Pahala-area residents had submitted testimony as of Tuesday afternoon for Thursday’s meeting, both opposing and supporting the plan.

Karen Wallis wrote that she and other residents had concerns over the building’s readiness to house such a program. “Has it been inspected for structural integrity, it would be a tragedy if the ceiling collapsed on students.” she said. “I believe Ka‘u needs more choices but do it right. What happens to students who sign up for this rush job and it fails?”

Hunter Bedgood, who identified himself as a “concerned parent,” wrote that he felt the facility could act as a vital resource for children in the area, stating that “a few biased individuals with their own agenda” were trying to “derail an incredible opportunity for our children.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.