Group recognized for making charter school a reality

South Maui Learning Ohana and Kihei Charter School founders gather at the school as a plaque is placed to commemorate the decadeslong struggle to create the school and a building to house it. From left to right: Cheryl Zarro, Diane Perrella, Malia Johnson and Gene Zarro. Not shown is Junius Johnson and Ray and Carla Hart. The school was chartered on May 17, 2001 and in the coming school year will have an estimated 700 students.

A plaque honoring the South Maui Learning Ohana, Inc., established Sept. 18, 1998, as the founding organization of the Kihei Charter School, chartered on May 17, 2001, has been placed at the front of the Kihei Charter School.

The KCS is designed as an “Innovation Building,” a project of SMLO to provide a home for the Kihei Charter School. Ground was broken on Dec. 30, 2016 and occupied only 22 months later on Oct. 22, 2018.

The Kihei Charter School Founders are Gene Zarro, Ray Hart, Malia Johnson, Cheryl Zarro, Carla Hart, Junius Johnson and Diane Parrella.

In comments made prior to the unveiling ceremony, Malia Johnson, SMLO board chair said, “The plaque means a great deal to me and my husband Junius Johnson who died in September 2016. It represents a long journey that the founders of the South Maui Learning Ohana took as they envisioned a school that would represent the beginning of the charter school movement in Hawaii. The Innovation Building of the Kihei Charter School was designed to provide the transformative education needed by students preparing for challenges in the 21st Century.”

SMLO Board Secretary and KCS Founder Diane Parrella said, “It was so gratifying to me to see the plaque. To me, it represents the culmination of the hard work of SMLO over many long years to reach our goal and finally see the completion of our charter school and see the students getting the benefit of what we did. The names on the plaque recognize the wonderful group of people who worked hard to make this dream come true and in the process became dear friends.”

SMLO CEO Gene Zarro and his wife Cheryl have dedicated the last 24 years of their lives to the creation of a Kihei Charter School. They reflected on the plaque ceremony with Cheryl speaking for both of them, “The plaque is a dedication to the successful road the South Maui Learning Ohana, Inc. has traveled. (It represents) the ability to thank the members for the contribution to allow this dream to come to fruition. The founders have stuck together since 1996 to assure an improvement in the education of our next generation of citizens. The building was dreamed about in the early days of getting a charter law passed into law here in Hawaii . . . We are proud members of the SMLO founders who have stuck it out for the 24 years and love that we can (now) formally thank the team.”


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