The Story of Kona Pacific
A History of Kona Pacific Public Charter School
In these strange and unprecedented times we are all looking at the future and wondering how things are going to unfold for us and our communities. At Kona Pacific Public Charter School, we are no different in our questions about how the future will play out. Guidelines are being set and changes negotiated. Federal, state and local leaders are trying to find the best solutions for a challenge that we haven't experienced before. Our school community is asking questions and wondering how the school will navigate the unknown.
In such a time it can be a benefit to remember the incredible story of our past, and how we have become the community we are now. We have all overcome challenges before and have found ourselves in places where we thought we couldn’t prevail, and here we are today, survivors of whatever events we faced. As a school, Kona Pacific has had its trials and has survived, and we will again. So to remember and inspire us, here is a brief history of our school for those who are new or needing a reminder of how resilient this community is.
Waldorf education came to Kona in the 1980s and ‘90s as a series of homeschool groups and small, teacher led initiatives that sought to meet the desires of local parents to offer an education based on healthy living, hands-on learning, creative expression, and cooperative community building. Different groups formed and reformed until the school began to coalesce around an early childhood program brought by Aunty Roseann. Her kinder space and knowledge of the curriculum helped to create the nexus that a small private school could expand from. When I arrived in Kona in 2000, I joined a dedicated staff and group of founders who saw a vision of what could be a unique and beautiful way to teach children to be creative, healthy, free-thinking human beings. It was called Kona Pacific School.
In those years the school was located down the road in an old church and side buildings. We offered combined classes of two grades per teacher, had a single office support person, and a board of deeply committed volunteers. It was bare bones, do-it-yourself, Ohana style education in which every year was a miracle to make it through financially. Those miracles and the land we would eventually move to were provided by our patrons, the Young family. They bought our land, supported the first four buildings, and kept the school afloat. When we first moved to the current site it was after a year during which every class had been set up in private houses or in the woods on the property. We were elated to be in classrooms after the challenges we had faced apart from each other. We had overcome a serious obstacle and made it through. We got permission to change our name to Kona Pacific Waldorf School.
The school grew and we had to constantly add tents and modify our spaces to accommodate more students. We realized early that we should have gone bigger in our rooms, but we made it work with what we had. In the school year of 2005-06 I graduated my 8th grade and at the same the Young family left Kona because their children had also graduated from the school. The financial challenges of running a private school in such a small community became overwhelming, and the following year it was decided that the school couldn’t meet its obligations and would have to close. It was a sad day for our families and teachers.
It was then that we gathered a group to explore the idea of becoming a Hawai'i public charter school. A brilliant plan was written, a top-scoring charter was approved by the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission, and a new group of teachers gathered to begin again. A non-profit was formed to purchase the property and manage the buildings.
Kona Pacific Public Charter School started with four classes and a kindergarten. This time each grade was separate and we could offer our education for free. We saw a new interest from our community from those who weren't able to join us before, and we grew a grade each year as we expanded from a tiny crew to a full size elementary school. With the growth came more needs, and we added our new classrooms after another year of crowding into portables and improvised space. We had made it through another major period of challenge, and were all in new and beautiful classrooms. The school had grown into a campus to inspire wonder, and our students grew gardens, walked in the woods, played on new fields, and held glorious festivals.
In the 2014-15 school year the person who had been our school director since the charter school began in 2008 left us, and the school began a new phase with new leadership. With three new directors in four years, Kona Pacific went through another stage of challenging times. The academics of our school were under scrutiny, financial issues became acute, and the unity of the community was shaken. There were those who wondered if we would survive this latest set of obstacles. Through hard decisions, intense focus on new curriculum, a newfound desire to become technologically adept, and sheer willpower Kona Pacific made it through again. Last year we opened with new teachers in half of our classes, a new executive director and pedagogical director, a new board, and many new families. By January 2020 our progress over the previous two years, and the close work between our board and the Charter Commission, resulted in a renewal of our charter for 5 (and due to Covid-19 changes, now 6) years. We had made it through again!
Then came COVID-19. We adapted, modified, innovated, and finished the year 2019-2020 school year online. Like every school worldwide, we had to find new ways of delivering an education when the world seemed crazy and uncertain. In our current school year we returned with most of our faculty intact and a new challenge ahead as the pandemic continues to impact all of our lives. What is the school year 2020-21 going to look like? While we don't know the future, we can be sure that Kona Pacific will have again stepped up and approached a difficult situation with fortitude and creativity. Our values remain the same. We will do our best to give our students an education that makes them the adaptive, inquisitive, self-driven learners that we need in South Kona and the world. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.