The Kapa‘a Way delivers


Principal Daniel Hamada started leading Kapa‘a High in 2010-11, and right out of the gate faced some big challenges, particularly with his freshmen. He put in place a student learning pipeline and supports structure known as The Kapa‘a Way, and encouraged his educators to lead in curriculum and instruction. The effort resulted in a major turnaround for the school. First in a series profiling Strive HI System success stories.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Shortly after Principal Daniel Hamada took the helm at Kapa‘a High in 2010, he put into place a structure for the school called “The Kapa‘a Way​.” It has a foundation that supports 9th graders in their high school transition, followed by a ladder of skills-focused supports and opportunities designed to help them reach their college, career and community aspirations.

The design is simple, and Hamada is fond of saying, “This isn’t rocket science.” But it’s producing rocket-propulsion-style results.

In 2015-16, along with racking up strong trend data, the East Kauai school recorded big year-over-year improvements in all four areas of the state’s accountability system:

View Kapa‘a's Strive HI report


  • + 12 points in Mathematics
  • + 25 points in English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA)
  • + 6 points in Science
  • + 7 points in Mathematics
  • + 20 points in ELA
READINESS: Kapa‘a has one of the highest graduation rates in the state (92 percent, 10 points above state average).
  • + 4 points over last year
  • +12 points since 2012-13
  • Also, with 60 percent of its students taking advanced coursework (dual credit, Advanced Placement), it’s running 17 points higher than the statewide average for high schools.
  • ELA: Kapa‘a has dropped its learning gap by 10 points, and is running a full 19 points below the state average for high schools.
  • Math: Though it lost ground compared with last year, it’s still 4 points below the state average for high schools.

Strive HI Chart

While it’s common for schools to show year-over-year strength in one or more categories, to be pulling weight in all four is noteworthy. (Learn more in About this Series, below.) Kapa‘a, once a school struggling with Achievement and Growth, is now on-par with high schools statewide. And importantly, it’s a leader in boosting Readiness and reducing the Gap.

The Kapa‘a Way

Hamada’s first year at Kapa‘a looked grim for his 9th graders — a third were getting D’s and F’s, 12 percent were chronically absent, and 1 in 5 were being held back from moving on to 10th grade.

“I re-interviewed the entire school staff because so many students were not passing classes,” Hamada said. “That sounds crazy, but it’s not. You have to show you’re making a difference for kids.”

His prior experience in school and state leadership positions meant Hamada was well informed about how pivotal 9th grade supports are. Data show that faltering in 9th grade greatly increases the likelihood of later failure and dropping out. It can be a tough hurdle even for the best of students. “They’re coming from the middle to the high school. You cannot assume they’re ready.”

He also knew the learning and support structures had to connect with students. “Whatever you’re trying to do, it has to make sense to the kids, to your customers. They have to understand why they’re learning what they’re learning, or they won’t.”

There are two major parts to The Kapa‘a Way:

  • The Hui & Academy Structure provides the foundation and scaffolding (pictured).
  • Norms of Practice provide the “fuel” that move students through the components of school, and maximizes the effectiveness of teachers and support staff.

It begins with the Hui — these are two smaller learning communities for 9th graders that provide foundational training, the “Transition Skills to High School” course, with curriculum and assessments written and implemented by the teachers that focus on life skills. Each Hui of a little more than 100 students has its own instruction and student support team comprised of core subject teachers in English, math, social studies, science, physical education and special education, plus a counselor and a vice principal.

9th graders​ Within a year of setting up the Hui, these were the results of the next cohort of grade 9 students:

  • The attendance rate was up 4 points,
  • Behavioral referrals were down 3 points to 2 percent,
  • The students earning D’s and F’s dropped by more than half to 15 percent,
  • The numbers of students passing Algebra 1 hit 97 percent (up 11 points) and English 1 hit 96 percent (up 12 points).

And the retention rate, where one in five students (20 percent) weren’t moving on to 10th grade? Slashed to only 4 percent. 

(Click to enlarge chart showing 9th grade cohort results up to last school year.)

So, just to reiterate... t​hat was in one year.

Four years later, those numbers have improved even further — only 10 percent of 9th graders received D’s and F’s, retention was down to 2 percent, additional core subject focus shows students passing Algebra 1, Geometry, English 1, World History, Biology and Physical Science in ranges of 97 to 100 percent.

The teacher leaders of these Hui are veteran educators. Calvin Paleka at Hui Ikaika has taught social studies at Kapa‘a High for 25 years and is an assistant athletic director. Kahele Keawe at Hui ‘Onipa‘a has taught English at Kapa‘a for six years, and another seven at Kamakahelei Middle before that. He also coaches track and is an advisor for student athletes. 

(Pictured, below: In front, hui leaders Kahele Keawe and Calvin Paleka with two of their hui teachers, Cheryl Morita (back left, inclusion teacher with Keawe) and Onipa‘a social studies teacher​ Leah Sanchez.)

teachers​They agree: the Hui alchemy of “common students, common teachers, common learning area” made a big impact.

“Prior to 2011, the set up was scattered,” Paleka said. “Kids were moving all over campus, mixing with the upperclassmen. Keeping all 9th graders in proximity, all in the lower part of campus next to each other, it eliminated a lot of problems in terms of tardies and referrals, and we could build those relationships with the students to work with them closely.”

Hamada noted, “No kid is slipping through the cracks.”

The Hui teachers annually collaborate on curriculum for the foundational course, “Transition Skills to High School.” It includes blended learning training for collaborative projects on Google for Education, service learning projects with local nonprofits such as hospitals, college readiness skills training via AVID, the Kauai Leadership Challenge that connects the Department’s General Learner Outcomes with real-world expectations, and career pathways explorations via the Career and Technical Education program.

The Hui leaders credit Hamada for giving the teachers the space to design the course.

“We’re empowered to take ownership of the house, to lead and be innovative. It’s almost a bottom-up leadership model,” Keawe said. “We designed and implemented the Transitions course on our own. We went to Mr. Hamada and said, ‘This is what we want to do.’ And he said yes.”

In tandem with the Hui’s academics is an intervention process, the Student Concerns Intervention Model, supported by the Hui’s counselor and VP. Data-driven profiles for each student are built with course marks, attendance, reading levels and more, and each has an intervention plan mediated by a core subject teacher who acts as a mentor. Paleka said the Hui structure makes it easy to craft trusting relationships with students. “There’s at least one teacher they’re close to who can help them with work and bringing grades up.”

When Hui students move into 10th grade, they select one of two academies to join: Hopes Academy with career pathways based on service, and Ideas Academy with pathways based on design. They can move from one academy to another, but thanks to the Transitions course they’ve been exposed to a broad range of career and higher learning possibilities. They have some idea about where their interests lie and what they want to pursue.

Literacy success

The focus on reading levels is grounded in “Literacy in all subjects,” backed by Common Core standards-based education and the Achieve 3000 program. The approach, in use at all three Kauai high schools, is correlated with their state-leading results in slashing English remediation among their graduates who go on to the University of Hawai‘i System.

“For the last three or four years, we’ve stressed the importance in every content area of literacy, and teachers have worked hard to align curriculum and articulate from grades 9 to 12 so each is a foundation of skills for the subsequent grade,” Keawe said.

In ELA, Kapa‘a is one of the rare schools that simultaneously boosted its achievement and growth while slashing the achievement gap (see Kapa‘a’s 2015-16 Strive HI Report).

Reasons Kapa‘a’s educators cite for this, in addition to the literacy effort, can be found in the The Kapa‘a Way’s Norms of Practice, a dynamic list of learning opportunities and support principles that include:

  • Co-Teaching: Core classes have a regular education and special education teacher. Inclusion of challenged students in core subject classrooms is the norm at Kapa‘a. “We are full-on co-teaching, students don’t know who is the special ed teacher and the general ed teacher, they just know they have two teachers,” Hamada said.
  • Bell to Bell: “Across classrooms, we have consistency with how we start the class, identifying the agenda and assignments for the day, a do-it-now board so they get started right away,” Paleka said. “There isn’t a lot of down time. They need the structure in order to be successful, consistently reinforced.”
  • Differentiation: As Hamada noted, “You might be a visual learner, or a kinesthetic learner. You have to know your student, and give your staff the space to tailor instruction that fits his or her needs.”

Bell schedule

Most remember high school as having seven or eight classes in a given day. Kapa‘a has moved to four 80-minute periods, along with a 35-minute period at the end of day to support tutoring and personal learning communities (PLCs). This doubling of instructional time periods means courses are a semester as opposed to a year, and there’s more flexibility for the teachers — not only giving them the time to reinforce Norms of Practice, but to let their Student Concerns Intervention Model work for each student.

“You have to create the space for staff to do this,” Hamada said. “When possible red flags pop up, the teams can identify them quickly, and the mentors and counselors can work with those kids.”

Notably, as teachers who are also involved in athletics programs, Paleka and Keawe are seeing the benefits outside of academics.

“There’s an emphasis on building relationships with students, there’s a sense of community, a sense of belonging. It increases their motivation,” Keawe said. “The success we’ve seen academically, it’s translated elsewhere, particularly athletics. A lot of it comes from mental habits and character traits they’re developing in the classroom.”

Spreading the success

The work Hamada is doing at Kapa‘a made him a natural pick for the state’s New Skills For Youth​ planning team, along with fellow Principal Keith Hayashi of Waipahu High. Hawai‘i was one of 24 states awarded a grant to create a three-year comprehensive career pathways plan, which was presented in Washington D.C. in October. (You can read Supt. Kathryn Matayoshi’s reflections on the effort in her Supt’s Corner column here. The work has since evolved to become the Connect to Careers Coalition, or C2C.)

The principals' experiences and knowledge were key in crafting a plan that scales successful models, connects the resources of the Hawai‘i DOE’s educational and workforce partners, and is relevant for students. The state will learn if it wins a Phase II grant sometime in December 2016, but the expectation is the work will go forward regardless.

Hamada said, “I don’t know if people realize what a tipping point New Skills for Youth is going to be. The work plan is solid. Once this is put into action — if I’m a high school administrator, this is really going to build the level of rigor and relevance. The way it’s structured, this is going to make it happen for a lot of schools and students.”

Kapa‘a High photo gallery​


About this ​​series

T​he Strive HI System​ is a diagnostic tool to see how schools are doing in supporting keiki across four key areas: achievement, growth, readiness and the achievement gap. The goal of this series is to profile those schools that are successfully moving the indicators in the right direction — boosting achievement, growth and readiness, while reducing the achievement gap — in order to promote models of success that other schools may want to adopt. View other stories in this series:

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