KAHULUI — Native Hawaiians concerned about the future of Kamehameha Schools began a petition drive Monday to try to persuade trustees to change admission policies so more Hawaiian children will qualify to attend the Maui campus.
"We're saying 'Please increase their opportunities,' " said Dr. Maile Jachowski, the valedictorian of the Kamehameha Class of 1977 and a pediatrician on Maui.
The action is in response to last week's announcement that Kalani Rosell, a non-Hawaiian student who just completed the 7th grade at Iao School, has been invited to join the 8th grade at Kamehameha on Maui this fall because not enough Hawaiian youngsters met the strict criteria.
Anyone — Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike — can sign the petition at a table next to Ah Fook's Super Market in the Kahului Shopping Center from 4 to 8 p.m. through Thursday. The signatures will be delivered to Kamehameha Schools chief executive Hamilton McCubbin on Friday.
Jachowski, who has two children enrolled at the Maui school, and Native Hawaiian cultural specialist Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. said the petition does not ask trustees to change their position on Rosell. They're hoping, instead, that the school's leaders will revamp the high admission standards that eliminate many Hawaiian children who have fewer advantages at home or who grow up in rural settings.
"Do we want to turn away any Hawaiian child who fails to meet those standards and start taking bright, non-Hawaiian children in their place?" said Jachowski. "If you only take bright children and make them brighter, you're not fulfilling the wishes of Princess Pauahi."
The Kamehameha Schools trust was established in 1884 by the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last direct descendent of King Kamehameha I. Because the princess was concerned about the decline of her fellow Hawaiians in light of the influx of foreigners, she spelled out in her will that she wanted to support a school for girls and another for boys. She then instructed that trustees "devote a portion of each year's income (from the trust) to the support and education of orphans, and others in indigent circumstances, giving the preference to Hawaiians of pure and part aboriginal blood."
The princess also gave the trustees the power to change regulations to run the school and alter admission policies.
Kekoa Paulsen, spokesman for Kamehameha Schools, said McCubbin "has agreed they'll review the admission polices and processes and, where it's warranted, recommend improvements."
Because that "effort was just getting under way," Paulsen said it was impossible to predict what would result.
Jachowski said about 40 Hawaiian children on Maui who applied to attend the 8th grade were deemed ineligible because they failed to meet the criteria so the last available chair in the class was given to Rosell.
Maxwell, a member of the Maui school's advisory board, said he feared that, once word gets out that a non-Hawaiian has been accepted, it "will open the floodgates" for other high-achieving non-Hawaiians to apply and take advantage of the lower tuition when compared with Maui's other private schools. Parents struggling to pay thousands of dollars a year to send their children to Seabury Hall or St. Anthony Junior Senior High School might have them apply to Kamehameha where they can attend for much less at $1,400 and "still know they'll get a quality education," said Maxwell.
Jachowski said it's also unfair for standards for the Oahu campus to be applied to Maui or the Big Island "where we're more rural."
"Let's say you have a child on Molokai or in Keanae who's raised in the taro patches, fishing and living a traditional Hawaiian lifestyle," said Maxwell. "They're very intelligent, but because they're only average academically, they don't make the cut."
No question, there's plenty of competition to get into the schools. On the Oahu campus, Paulsen said chances of acceptance are 7-to-1 or higher for upper grade applicants and 11-to-1 for kindergartners. He said it's difficult to say how many non-Hawaiians apply to Kamehameha Schools every year, but estimated it was probably "fewer than 100."
He said various criteria for candidates include grades, references, private interviews, writing samples, activities and scores on standardized tests for mathematics and reading that are "used in other institutions nationally."
Maxwell was critical of how younger students were reviewed, saying they might be rejected simply because of shyness or fear of being alone, without their mothers, before a panel of strangers during the interviews.
Both Jachowski and Maxwell said they could have understood the decision to accept Rosell had it been explained as an attempt to ward off recent efforts to dismantle "race-based" programs that benefit only Hawaiians, but Paulsen said that was not the reason. McCubbin has stated that the offer to Rosell was made because no other qualified Hawaiian candidates for the 8th grade were left.
Jachowski and Maxwell emphasized they are not targeting Rosell or his parents.
"We'll support this child. This doesn't have anything to do with this boy at all," said Jachowski. "The boy's father said, 'It's between the Hawaiians and the admissions policy,' and I agree with that.
"Princess Pauahi intended that preference be given to all Hawaiian children, not just the brightest Hawaiian children," she continued. "This petition asks the trustees to change the existing admissions policy to better allow the Hawaiian children to have the opportunity to attend Kamehameha Schools."