Student Achievement At Kaimuki High

Kaimuki High School principal Wade Araki PHOTO COURTESY KAIMUKI HIGH SCHOOL

Kaimuki High School principal Wade Araki

Where can one receive a top-quality education with a view of Diamond Head Crater and picturesque scenes of branches being lifted high by whispering ocean breezes?

These are some of the words from the opening lines of Kaimuki’s High School’s alma mater, where principal Wade Araki is breaking ground to create a whole new positive image and reputation for the 71-year-old school.

Over the past three years, this energetic and creative educator has experienced great success in the integration of immigrant students into Hawaii’s educational system in the face of some major economic challenges.

“Kaimuki is now a true melting pot of cultures. Most of our students are Polynesians and Micronesians. Others are new to our country from the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and China,” he says. Some 60 percent of his ethnically diverse enrollees come from households at or below the poverty level.

Wenmin He is one of them, and he is proud to admit that his parents struggled in China and moved to Hawaii to seek a better life for him and his family. He is about to experience a brighter future with an American Dream education.

Thanks to the Kaimuki to College program, He, who barely spoke English, is on his way to attend one of the top engineering schools in the country, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Kaimuki to College offers students the opportunity to earn free college credits while taking courses on the high school campus taught by instructors from Kapiolani Community College.

In 2011, the school’s freshman retention rate was at 30 percent, which meant nearly one-third of the class did not earn sufficient credits to be promoted to the 10th grade.

“By summer’s end, Kaimuki’s freshman retention rate will have dropped to 3.2 percent, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the students, staff and teachers in our Freshman Academy,” says Araki. The institution has two other academies it is most proud of: Hospitality Academy, which covers hotel operations, culinary and entertainment, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy. The curricula integrate technology into innovative and rigorous projects through the use of design and engineering technology, as well as electronics and computer systems.

In recognition of the fact that many of the parents of the students are taking advantage of their proximity to hotels in Waikiki as places of employment, Araki hopes to transform his Hospitality Academy from a specialized school for students by day to an adult training center in the evening. What he and his staff have done with their old auto mechanic shop is remarkable. With the help of Kaimuki High School Foundation and others, they have built a mini dining area and guest rooms for the students to have a simulated experience in a hotel-like setting. Talk about creating a wholesome learning tourism environment for the family!

“In 2011, Kaimuki’s cumulative grade point average (GPA) was at 1.27. By the end of the 2013-14 school year, the GPA has risen to 2.07,” Araki says. “Prior to 2013, very few Kaimuki students took advantage of the Running Start early college program, where they earned dual credits enrolled in college courses here at Kaimuki High after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. By the end of this school year, Kaimuki had 44 students enrolled in dual-credit college courses, earning 206 college credits combined while still in high school,” he adds.

Prior to being selected as the Bulldogs’ principal, Araki headed up other Oahu schools, including eight years at Benjamin Parker Elementary in Kaneohe. During his tenure there, he raised test scores for math from 11 percent in 2002 to 84 percent in 2011. Reading scores soared from 26 percent in 2002 to 86 percent in 2011. Araki also spent a semester as principal of King Intermediate School in Kaneohe, and nine years as vice principal at Kailua High School.

While other schools prep their student body to be college bound, for Kaimuki High, employment is imminent upon graduation, thanks to the three academies the institution offers that are geared toward giving students the experience they need to enter a competitive workforce. These smaller learning environments have proven to positively affect student achievement and are known to lower dropout rates, increase attendance, result in fewer disciplinary incidents and more student participation in extracurricular activities.

“I met with the students, their parents and other stakeholders of the community, and they felt very strongly that they wanted our students to be employment-ready and not focused strictly to pursue a college education. By incorporating their desires into our mission statement, the school, the students and their families and the community are all singing out of the same hymn book,” says Araki.

For Araki, poverty is no respecter of persons. In other words, all Kaimuki students have equal opportunities to excel in each academy and pursue sky-high goals despite their socioeconomic status.

It’s no surprise the seasoned principal was named the 2012 School Turnaround Principal of the Year for his work at Benjamin Parker and at Kaimuki High by the School Turnaround School, an affiliate of the Rensselaerville Institute, a New York-based organization aimed at awarding educators who shake up their schools toward excellence. In 2014, he was nominated for the Masayuki Tokioka Excellence in School Leadership Award, where he was a top-three semi-finalist and recognized for providing excellent leadership and superior-quality public education.

Perhaps Kaimuki High School’s most distinguished graduate is former Lt. Gov. and current U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono. Other notable students include U.S. District Attorney Florence Nakakuni, the late iconic musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro and entertainer Kelly Boy De Lima, leader of Kapena, one of Hawaii’s all-time popular show groups.

For Araki, the best is yet to come because he firmly believes greater things are going to continue to happen to the 784 students who don the green and gold this coming school year.

After all, he preaches patience and espouses the philosophy that “there are no shortcuts to turning around low-performing schools. They just need to be turned around one student at a time.”