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Public school officials cope with overcrowded classrooms

Work continues to replace classroom space lost to fire at Kahului Elementary

Kiewit carpenter Armand Agbayani closes in Wednesday on the bottom area of one of the new Kahului Elementary School buildings. The school will have new modular classrooms to accommodate students and teachers displaced by a fire last school year. The new public school year begins Monday, although the opening days for some schools vary. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui High School’s staff and teachers are doing their best to handle a record-breaking student population of more than 2,000 at the Kahului campus.

And next door, Kahului Elementary School students will see six new modular classrooms to accommodate students and teachers displaced by a fire last school year.

The changes come as the 2018-19 public school year for students begins Monday, and as thousands of youngsters head back to class. School opening dates vary, and parents should check with their children’s campus staff for information.

At Maui High School, the largest school in Maui County, enrollment has climbed from 1,929 at the end of the last school year to around 2,035 this week, said Principal Jamie Yap. The second largest Maui school, Baldwin High, has 1,360 students.

Yap said they’re accommodating the growth “as best we can with our present infrastructure and resources, we have made movement and changes.”

One of the new classrooms is almost ready Wednesday for school staff to sweep in and prepare for the start of classes. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Some changes include closing the school’s teen parents program, which offered prenatal and parenting classes for pregnant students and new mothers. It began in 1989 and was the only such program in Maui County. A day care component was added later, but it has closed as well.

Maui High will not hold classes in the library or cafeteria, and won’t add any portable buildings. The campus already has 37, Yap said.

The incoming freshman class with 576 students is the school’s largest. The sophomore class has 536 students, Yap said.

Maui High has around the same number of students as some of Oahu’s larger high schools, like Kapolei High, which serves students in Oahu’s “Second City,” which includes Makakilo, Kalaeloa, Honokai Hale and Ko Olina.

Last school year, Campbell High School on Oahu had the biggest enrollment at 3,110.

Rojac Construction Inc. equipment operator Alaka‘i Artates pounds a stake into the ground near Kahului Elementary School’s new modular classroom buildings Wednesday afternoon. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Relief for Maui High will take a few years.

Recently, a blessing was held in Kihei for infrastructure work for the new high school. South Maui students ride buses into Kahului to attend Maui High. The Department of Education said it expects the new Kihei high school to be open for the 2021-22 school year.

At Kahului Elementary, six modular classrooms increase classroom space after a Nov. 24 fire destroyed the four-classroom F building and damaged two portable classrooms and waterlines.

Teachers and students moved into other spaces around campus for the rest of last school year.

Principal Keoni Wilhelm said the school used the library for classroom space and the librarian took books to the classrooms.

“Actually we are pretty excited,” Wilhelm said last week about the modular classrooms. “We are excited because the modulars are new, and we know that the students will be very excited to see it on our campus . . . to have a bigger space for actually learning . . . it’s going to be great.”

The fire caused an estimated $1.2 million in damage and caused the school to be closed for more than a week. Petitions were filed in Family Court in April against two 17-year-old boys, one from Kahului and the other from Oahu. The petitions are equivalent to a criminal complaint. No updates on the case were immediately available last week.

The demolition of F building damaged in the fire is being scheduled, said DOE Assistant Superintendent Dann Carlson.

He added that funding for a replacement building has not yet been secured. A $5.5 million construction project continues on the school’s building G, which was destroyed by fire in April 2010.

The construction is part of a design-build contract with Kiewit Building Group, Carlson said.

Kamu Anderson of Kiewit said substantial completion of the building is tentatively scheduled for January.

Wilhelm said the new building will include space for art, music and creative movement classes. It also will have general education classrooms and a video technology room.

As a reflection of all of the challenges the school faced, it has adopted the theme of “We got this” for the year, Wilhelm said.

There won’t be a repeat of last year’s bus driver shortage, the DOE and the school bus vendor said last week.

“We are ready to roll,” said Louis Gomes, president and chief executive officer of Ground Transport, the vendor handling Maui routes serving the Baldwin, Lahainaluna and Maui High areas.

A driver shortage last year, which took place after Ground Transport won a multi-year contract for the bus services, led to consolidation and the shutting down of routes. Parents scrambled to get their children to school. It took around five weeks before the issue was resolved.

The company has been advertising for backup drivers, but Gomes said he has enough in place this year.

Some students will be seeing new faces at the helms of their schools this week.

At Makawao Elementary, Richard Carosso will be temporary acting principal following the retirement of Robyn Honda. And Haiku Elementary has a new principal, Tami Haiki. She replaces Desiree Sides, who left for a district office position.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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