Paia School library’s stint as storage ends

PAIA – The library at Paia School is scheduled to reopen today after being used primarily as storage space for the last five years.

Students, parents and community members are invited to attend the blessing of the library at the school today beginning at 10 a.m.

“The blessing (and) reopening of our library brings our school community together,” new Paia School Principal Kehau Luuwai said in an email. She also said that the library originally closed more than five years ago “because it was slated for renovation and, unfortunately, it didn’t happen.” She said she didn’t know whether financial or staffing issues contributed to the prolonged closure.

Parents and teachers had been wanting to reopen the library for more than a year, and there had been small-scale efforts to clean up the building and clear out stored items, which one parent said was stacked almost to the ceiling. During a community workday last month, about 20 volunteers spent the day removing boxes of old textbooks, VHS tapes and other “unusable” items.

“Right now, teachers set up reading corners in their rooms because they couldn’t bring kids to the library,” parent Jonalyn Fujieda said. “But I want my kids to understand what a treasure the library is. It’s a treasure trove of imagination and literacy . . . Now that the library has opened again, they can absorb reading time and understand that special relationship between the student and the library.”

In the long term, Luuwai envisions the library as a “technology hub for students” with books as well as computers, iPads, iPods, video conferencing, audiobooks and video production equipment. She said she also hopes to be able to use the library in the future to educate parents on technologies associated with student learning.

There has not been a librarian on staff at the school for several years, and Luuwai said there are no plans to hire a librarian this year, although the school will hire a part-time library assistant next year.

Luuwai was appointed as the interim principal at the start of the year, after former Principal Sue Alivado retired in December, school officials said.

One of Luuwai’s first initiatives was to try to bridge the gap between the school’s two parent teacher association groups – Na Leo Kako’o o Maui (which supports Hawaiian language immersion) and the English-speaking parent group.

The two groups have not always seen eye to eye on administrative decisions over the last few years. Because demand for Hawaiian immersion education has increased drastically within the last three years, mostly from out-of-district families, Paia School, one of only two elementary schools on Maui that offer immersion, found itself needing more and more Hawaiian immersion classrooms and teachers to fill the need.

However, because there was not enough funding to add additional classes, the former principal had proposed implementing a lottery – a system in which only those students whose names were picked at random would be able to enroll. Na Leo Kako’o o Maui and other Hawaiian language immersion advocates strongly protested the lottery both in 2010 and 2013, and in both years, funding was allotted at the last minute to add another kindergarten immersion class.

A recent proposal by Na Leo Kako’o to convert Paia School to an entirely Hawaiian immersion site, which would force English-speaking students who live in the designated Paia school district to go elsewhere, further fueled tensions between parents at the school. The group hosted two public meetings in October and has since submitted its report and is awaiting a response from the state Board of Education, the group said.

In the meantime, parents from both groups have said that they are still working together, despite their differences.

“There’s definitely always mutual respect. It’s such a small community. You’re going to see each other at Wal-mart, and your kids are going to play together,” said Fujieda, who is also president of the English-speaking PTA group and has two children currently enrolled at the school. “It was not bad blood. We were just doing what was best for our kids.”

“Kehau is a good ‘bridge’ principal,” Fujieda added. “She’s a Hawaiian speaker and Hawaiian woman, so she definitely understands the wants and needs of Hawaiian immersion, but we feel lucky and blessed she understands the Paia community still wants to be at Paia School . . . She’s helpful in bridging the gap.”

Fujieda and other parents said that Luuwai has made an effort to sit with both parent groups and begin critical discussion on how the school can meet expected growth in the next five years and beyond, while avoiding having to implement “desperate measures” like the lottery. In January, she hosted a first quarterly round-table meeting to discuss growth and the school’s long-term plans.

“Kehau’s willingness to try things and be open to things . . . is very refreshing,” Na Leo Kako’o O Maui President Sheri Daniels said. “It’s not one side outweighing the other. It’s a partnership. How can we enhance both because we have to coexist, at least for now?”

Daniels said the group is still hoping to start an all-immersion site on Maui, whether at Paia School or elsewhere, although the decision is ultimately up to the state.

She said the group has submitted a proposal for a new bell schedule next year, in which Hawaiian immersion students would have recess and lunch scheduled separately from English-speaking students.

“There are protocols in the cafeteria that we expect the kids to do and follow, when you have a student two tables across that doesn’t have to do these protocols . . . it defeats the purpose of immersion education,” Daniels said.

She and other parents have said that having Hawaiian language as an elective in school is not the same as having an immersive education in which the language is spoken inside and outside of the classroom.

Daniels and Fujieda both said they were appreciative of the new principal for at least facilitating dialogue between the two groups as they consider the future of the school.

Luuwai started her career as an educator at Paia School as a Hawaiian language immersion teacher for grades 2, 3 and 5. She also taught 4th-grade English education for a year and served as the school counselor for a year.

She left Paia School for a job as vice principal of Waihee Elementary, and then went on to be vice principal at Iao Intermediate and Baldwin High schools.

Luuwai is also part of the ‘Aha Ka’ahumanu Women’s Society, Halau Ke’alaokamaile and the Keawala’i Congregational Church. She is working on obtaining a doctorate in cultural-based education.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at