Public Schools In Hawaii: Grades PreK-12

Posted Oct 31, 2011 at 5:27pm
Stately, historic building fronted by a lawn and a statue of a man.

McKinley High School, located in the Makiki area of Honolulu. (Photo credit: coconut wireless)

Hawaii is the only state in U.S. that has just one school district (Department of Education) that governs all public schools in the state. Hawaii’s Department of Education also sets policies such as high school graduation requirements and curriculum standards.

For administrative purposes, the Department of Education is divided into 7 subdistricts:

  • Hawaii District (Big Island)
  • Kauai District (Kauai)
  • Maui District (Maui, Molokai, Lanai)
  • Honolulu District (Oahu)
  • Central District (Oahu)
  • Windward District (Oahu)
  • Leeward District (Oahu)

Fast facts about Hawaii’s public school system:

  • Approximate number of students: 180,000
  • Average student-teacher ratio in grades K-2: 20:1
  • Average student-teacher ratio in grades 3-12: 27:1
  • Number of days in the 2011-2012 school year: 180

Finding Your Home School

Hawaii has a total of 288 public schools. Students must attend their “home” public school, which is determined by their home address. To find your home school:

  • On Oahu: Search for your home address’s property report (scroll down to “Report Generator” and type in your home’s street name, leaving off suffixes like “St.” and “Ave.”). Once you’ve found the property report for your home address, there should be a field marked “School” that lists the home school for that address.
  • Military housing on Oahu: Use this map to locate the public school that serves your military housing area on the island.
  • On neighbor islands: Call your nearest public school to confirm that your home address is within their attendance boundaries.
  • If you’re looking to buy a home in Hawaii: Prudential Locations’ school search finds properties for sale that are near a particular school. (NOTE: Proximity to a school doesn’t always mean it’s within that school’s attendance boundaries — make sure to check before buying a home.)

Geographic Exceptions

If you want your child to attend another public school other than their home school, apply for a geographic exception (GE) between January 1-March 1 for the upcoming school year. GE vacancies at the most popular schools fill up fast, so the earlier you submit your GE application, the better. In mid-March, you’ll be notified whether you’ve been granted the GE. Some common reasons why parents apply for their child to attend another public school are:

  • The parent works close to the other school.
  • Relatives providing before- or after-school child care live close to the other school.
  • The child’s home school isn’t meeting their special needs.
  • The child’s home school isn’t meeting state or national standards.
  • The family is moving mid-year but wants to keep their child at their current school.

Sought-After Public Schools

Of course, another reason why parents apply for GEs is so that their children can attend public schools with the best programs, facilities, and test scores. This Hawaii News Now article points out that some of the top-rated public elementary schools in the state are rumored to be “feeder” schools for prestigious private junior high and senior high schools. In other words, children who attend these elementary schools are rumored to have a better chance of being accepted into Hawaii’s top private secondary schools.

Some of Hawaii’s most reputable public schools — which are undoubtedly indundated with GE applications every year — are:

  • Kaimuki Middle School (Diamond Head/Kaimuki, Honolulu) – Grades 6-8. Top-rated middle school in the state. Grades 6-8.
  • Mililani High (Mililani, Oahu) – Grades 9-12. State’s top-rated high school in the state..
  • Momilani Elementary (Pearl City, Oahu) – Grades K-6. Rated #1 in the state. Rumored “feeder” school.
  • Noelani Elementary (Manoa, Honolulu) – Grades K-5. Rated #5 in the state. Rumored “feeder” school.

To see ratings for all the public schools in Hawaii, check out Honolulu Magazine’s Grading the Public Schools 2010 chart. For slightly more up-to-date ratings of just the high schools, check out their Grading the Public High Schools 2011 (skip to pages 84-85 to see the ratings chart).

Public Charter Schools

Of the 288 public schools in the state, 32 are public charter schools. Like regular public schools, charter schools are held accountable for meeting state education standards. But unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are free to create their own curriculum and methods to achieve those academic results. They must detail exactly how they plan on measuring and achieving these results in a written contract with the Charter School Review Panel, which holds them accountable for sticking to the terms of their contract.

The jury is still out on whether Hawaii’s charter school students perform better academically than their regular-school peers. So far, test scores for Hawaii’s charter school students have been slightly higher in reading, but lower in math. Still, some parents feel public charter schools are a better fit for their children because of the specialized programs they offer and the innovative teaching methods they use.

Below are the 32 public charter schools in Hawaii, along with their educational philosophies and focuses. NOTE: Not all public charter schools are accredited — in fact, most of the ones in Hawaii are not. I have noted below which schools are accredited by the Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC). Please be aware that accreditation becomes particularly important in grades 9-12, as high school graduates from unaccredited schools can sometimes have a difficult time getting accepted into some colleges and universities.

NOTE: In the charter schools noted below as Hawaiian language immersion schools, all subjects are taught in Hawaiian except for English, which is taught as a separate subject starting in grade 5. For more info, check out the Department of Education’s site on its Hawaiian-language immersion program.


  • Hawaii Technology Academy (Oahu, Big Island, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, and by referral only in Hana, Maui) – Grades K-12. Hybrid classroom-virtual learning. Individualized, Web-based curriculum. WASC-accredited.
  • Myron B. Thompson Academy (All islands). Grades K-12. Hybrid classroom-virtual learning. Student-centered learning. WASC-accredited.


  • Hakipu’u Learning Center (Kaneohe) – Grades 4-12. Environmental stewardship. Hawaiian culture. Project-based curriculum.
  • Halau Ku Mana (Makiki, Honolulu) – Grades 6-12. Environmental stewardship. Hawaiian culture. Project-based curriculum.
  • Halau Lokahi (Kalihi, Honolulu) – Grades K-12. Hawaiian culture. Hands-on, project-based learning.
  • Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao (Waianae) – Grades K-8. Hawaiian culture.
  • Kamaile Academy (Waianae) – Grades PreK-10. Hawaiian culture. Partnership with Polynesian Voyaging Society.
  • Ke Kula o Samuel M. Kamakau (Kaneohe) – Grades K-12. Hawaiian-language immersion school. Hawaiian culture, environmental stewardship.
  • Lanikai School (Kailua) – Grades JK-6. Core curriculum that exceeds state standards. Student-centered learning. WASC-accredited.
  • University Lab School (Manoa, Honolulu) – Grades K-12. Experimental school in partnership with University of Hawaii’s Curriculum Research & Development Group.
  • Voyager (Kaka’ako, Honolulu) – Grades K-8. Hawaiian, Spanish, and Mandarin language instruction. Student-centered learning. Multi-age classrooms.
  • Waialae Elementary (Kaimuki, Honolulu) – Grades K-5. Interdisciplinary curriculum based on science and social studies. Collaborative inquiry and problem-solving. WASC-accredited.

Big Island

  • Connections (Hilo) – Grades K-12. Constructivist approach to learning. Inquiry- and project-based learning. Independent thinking.
  • Hawaii Academy of Arts & Science (Pahoa) – Grades K12. Core-subject curriculum: English/Language Arts, Science, Math, and History/Social Studies. Project-based, student-centered learning. WASC-accredited.
  • Innovations (Kailua-Kona) – Grades 1-8. Arts- and technology-integrated curriclum. Project-based, student-centered learning. Multi-age classrooms.
  • Ka Umeke Ka’eo (Hilo) – Grades K-10. Hawaiian-language immersion school. Hawaiian culture.
  • Kanu o ka Aina (Kamuela) – Grades JK-12. Bilingual (Hawaiian-English). Hawaiian culture, environmental stewardship. Project-based curriculum. WASC-accredited.
  • Ke Ana La’ahana (Hilo) – Grades 7-12. Hawaiian culture. Environmental stewardship. Hands-on, project-based learning.
  • Ke Kula o Nawahiokalani’opu’u Iki Laboratory (Kea’au) – Grades K-8. Hawaiian-language immersion school. Hawaiian culture.
  • Kona Pacific (Kealakekua) – Grades K-7. Arts, Hawaiian culture, agricultural studies, environmental stewardship. Hands-on, project-based curriculum inspired by Waldorf education.
  • Kua o ka La (Pahoa) – Grades K-3, 6-12. Hawaiian culture, environmental stewardship. Project-based learning.
  • Laupahoehoe Community PCS (Laupahoehoe) – Opening in 2012. Grades K-12. Community values, teamwork. Experiential learning through community partnerships.
  • Volcano School of Arts & Sciences (Volcano) – Grades K-8. Arts, natural sciences. Experiential, discovery-based learning. WASC-accredited.
  • Waimea Middle School (Kamuela) – Grades 6-8. Hawaiian culture, environmental stewardship. Technology-integrated, values-based curriculum. Hands-on learning.
  • Waters of Life (Mountain View) – Grades K-7. Hawaiian culture, environmental stewardship.
  • West Hawaii Explorations Academy (Kailua-Kona) – Grades 6-12. Science-focused, outdoor, hands-on education. Environmental stewardship.. Student-centered, project-based learning. WASC-accredited.



  • Kihei Charter School (Kihei) – Grades K-12. Environmental stewardship. Project- and community-based curriculum. Hybrid classroom-virtual learning option. WASC-accredited.


  • Kualapu’u Elementary (Kualapu’u) – Grades PreK-6. Hawaiian-language immersion program offered as an option, but not implemented school-wide. Hawaiian culture.

Hawaiian-Language Immersion Schools

Hawaii has two official state languages: English and Hawaiian. As such, certain public schools in Hawaii offer a Hawaiian-language immersion program, in which all subjects are taught in Hawaiian except for English, which is taught as a separate subject starting in grade 5. Most of the schools offer the immersion program as an option, but 8 of them implement the program school-wide:

Special-Needs Schools

Hawaii’s Department of Education runs a few schools for students with special needs. If you think your child could benefit from attending one of these special schools, contact your home school so your child can be evaluated for a possible referral.

  • Adult Education Schools (Oahu, Big Island, Maui, Kauai) – Ages 16 and up. Offers classes for earning a high school diploma outside of the traditional high school environment. No referral necessary.
  • Hawaii School For The Deaf & The Blind (Waikiki-Kapahulu, Honolulu) – Ages 3-20. Services for deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind, and partially sighted students. Bilingual English-American Sign Language immersion program. Free weekday boarding and weekend interisland flights available for students from neighbor islands. New students must be referred by Hawaii’s Department of Education.
  • Jefferson School Orthopedic Unit (Waikiki-Kapahulu, Honolulu) – Grades PreK-5. Located on the campus of Jefferson Elementary School. New students must be referred by Hawaii’s Department of Education.

For more info, see my article Special-Needs Schools & Programs In Hawaii.


Once you’ve determined which public school your child will be attending and you’re ready to register them, bring these records and documents with you to the school office.

Kindergarten Eligibility

Kindergarten attendance is not mandatory in Hawaii, although most families do choose to enroll their children in kindergarten. Last year, most of the state’s public elementary schools began kindergarten registration on Feb. 1 for the upcoming school year. Check with your individual school to confirm when they begin kindergarten registration.

In Hawaii’s public school system, the rules concerning the age of kindergarten eligibility will be changing in a couple years…


  • Children who will be 5 years old on or before August 1 will be enrolled in kindergarten that year.
  • Children who will be 5 years old between August 2-December 31 will be enrolled in junior kindergarten that year.
  • Some schools have separate classes for each age group, while some schools have mixed-age classes.
  • Depending on their readiness, children who complete junior kindergarten may go directly to first grade the following school year, or remain in kindergarten for another year.

Beginning with the 2013-14 school year:

  • Children who will be 5 years old on or before August 1 will be enrolled in kindergarten that year.
  • Children who will be 5 years old between August 2-December 31 must wait until the following year to enroll in kindergarten. There will no longer be a junior kindergarten program.