Makua, haumana and kumu took to the streets Monday making public their call for the removal or resignation of Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino Po‘okumu Makala Pa‘akaula.
The parents, students and teachers say Pa‘akaula, who came to the school in July 2020 replacing long-time Po‘okumu Keli‘ikanoe Mahi, needs to go to save Hawaiian immersion education in West Hawaii.
“Our school is in danger of shutting down due to the harassment and mistreatment of our teachers by administration. Teachers and school staff have already quit due to harassment and more than half will not return next year if they remain principal, we will not have a school to return to after summer break,” reads a petition calling for the immediate removal or resignation of the school’s administrator.
By early evening Monday, four days after the petition “Remove ‘Ehunui (KKOE) Administration Now!!” was created, more than 1,250 people had signed on in support.
Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino is the only state Department of Education K-12 Hawaiian immersion (kaiapuni) school on the Big Island, and one of only a few offering such education from kindergarten through grade 12 in the state. In academic year 2020-21, the Kealakekua-based school boasted an enrollment of 260 pupils with more than two-thirds of those students in grades K-6.
Pa‘akaula took over as po‘okumu (principal) in July 2020. Before coming to the Big Island school, she served as principal at an Oahu Hawaiian immersion school, Pu‘ohala Elementary, following a three-year stint as vice principal at James B. Castle High.
Tiare Hewlen, who is the current president of the school’s Hui Makua, which operates like a parent teacher association, and upcoming president Noe Moku said Pa‘akaula since taking the helm last summer has failed to communicate with members of the school amid the pandemic, and has created a hostile work environment for the school’s kumu that is impacting their ability to educate students.
“It’s been an ongoing issue from the beginning of the (school) year,” said Hewlen.
Hewlen, Moku, kumu and others allege Pa‘akaula has violated the Department of Education’s Code of Conduct and directives, as well as contractual agreements with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents tenured educators at the school. The change.org petition outlines a host of violations and concerns, including bullying and the use of profane language on campus.
“Continual disregard of the HIDOE Code of Conduct Guiding Principles, lack of communication and transparency, questionable integrity, lack of professionalism, and unwillingness to collaborate with makua, kumu and our community, has made us aware that this current Principal does not have the best interest of our kula and keiki in mind or heart,” the petition reads.
Four interventions have been held involving the Office of Hawaiian Education and the DOE’s West Hawaii Complex Area superintendent with little resolve, the two said. The Hawaii State Teachers Association confirmed Monday two grievances dating to last fall had been filed: a class grievance filed on behalf of all the teachers at the school and one filed on behalf of an individual teacher.
“We can’t wait for the DOE to go through an investigation. It’s been too long, too hard and the process is so slow that people will end up leaving before they come to a conclusion of what they are going to do,” said Moku, noting that going public seemed to be the only way to get “attention and hopefully some movement.”
Pa‘akaula’s resignation is the goal of the hui, which the two parents of pupils said had no say in her hire.
“We would like her to resign and we would like somebody from within our kula (school),” Moku said. “We still have faculty members that are teachers. We need a principal that just holds the values that started our school and carried us through these years — that’s what we would like.”
Kawehi Zoller, who’s taught for four years at Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino, said kumu like herself are ready to leave and “we are all united in the agreement that we need to get rid of this person who is unwilling to change, makes us feel unsafe, who intently, pervasively harasses us and bullies us with the intentions to show dominance.”
“We want her to leave and we feel like that’s the only solution,” said Zoller. “We tried to make amends with her on many occasions, practice forgiveness, practice aloha and there’s no way we can trust her. So our solution is the DOE needs to be rid of her. We need to let her go and we’re not the first ones who have had issues.”
Attempts to reach Pa‘akaula were unsuccessful with calls also referred to the Department of Education’s West Hawaii Area Complex Area Superintendent Janette Snelling.
West Hawaii Today was later provided a copy of a letter sent to parents dated Monday.
“I am sending this letter home to inform you that concerns about leadership at your school are being taken seriously and a process to formally look into matters has been initiated. Although I am not able to discuss the details of this confidential matter, I do understand the urgency of the concerns that have been received and can assure you that formal steps have been taken. I respectfully ask for your assistance and patience as we expeditiously work through the process,” the letter from Snelling reads, providing parents with information to contact her directly.