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REPORT FROM THE HAWAII PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL NETWORK – Hawaii public charter schools will achieve an enrollment record this week as more than 10,000 kindergarten through 12th graders begin classes after summer break.

The projected enrollment of 10,097 represents a milestone for Hawaii’s charter movement, which served just 1,341 students in 2000.

“All our charters remain committed to innovating public education,” said Lynn Finnegan, executive director of the Hawaii Public Charter School Network (HPCSN). “We accomplish this by empowering principals and teachers, making decisions at the local level and providing for the needs of individual students.

“And our charters succeed in their missions despite receiving no facilities money and other forms of support afforded to regular public schools,” Finnegan added.

America’s first charter school opened in 1991 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Today there are more than 5,000 charters in 41 states and Washington, D.C., serving over 1.6 million students.

Hawaii’s charter movement began in 1994 when the State Legislature passed a law that converted existing public schools – such as Lanikai Elementary and Waialae Elementary – into “student centered” schools.

Five years later the Legislature allowed “New Century” start-up charter schools that did not have to convert from existing Department of Education schools. The first three to receive this designation were Connections, West Hawaii Explorations Academy and Kanu o ka ‘Aina.

Now with the addition of Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School this year, Hawaii has 32 public charter schools and there are seven applications for new campuses awaiting review by the Public Charter School Commission.

Lynn Finnegan

In addition to reaching an enrollment milestone, the 2012-2013 school year involves a major transition for the campuses as numerous recommendations of the Charter School Governance, Accountability and Authority Task Force go into effect under new state law.

This bipartisan legislation (Acts 130 and 131) signed in June by Governor Abercrombie clarifies roles and responsibilities of charter schools and other parts of the charter school sector to bring clear accountability for student achievement and fiscal/operational viability.

Coordinating the transition to these new laws is the Chicago-based National Association of Charter Schools Authorizers.

Hawaii charters also operate under new governance this year through the recently formed State Public Charter School Commission, which replaced the Charter School Review Panel. Appointed by the state Board of Education, the nine-member commission is chaired by Karen Street, vice president of organizational development for First Insurance Co. of Hawaii.

New leadership is also in place on the HPCSN board of directors, led by President Daniel Caluya, director/principal of Na Wai Ola Public Charter School on the Big Island. Under Caluya’s leadership, Na Wai Ola was voted “Most Improved Charter School” for 2011.

Charters are tuition-free, publicly funded schools open to all students in urban and rural areas statewide. Educational specialties include STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Native Hawaiian language immersion and the performing and visual arts.

To celebrate the 10,000-student enrollment milestone, HPCSN will highlight one charter school per day on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/hawaiicharterschools) from July 31 through August 31.

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Hawaii Reporter is an award-winning, independent Hawaii-based news and opinion journal founded in 2001 and launched in February 2002. The journal's staff have won a number of top awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including the top investigative news reporting awards, business reporting awards, government reporting awards, and online news reporting awards. Hawaii Reporter has a weekly television news show, News Behind the News, which airs on Mondays at 1:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.