Myron B. Thompson Academy Public Charter School


Principal Diana Oshiro of Myron B. Thompson Academy Public Charter School says she values "blind loyalty" and has hired several relatives -- including her sister and three nephews -- because she can count on them to do what she says.

Three out of four administrators at Thompson, one of the state's largest charter schools, are part of Oshiro's family. Her sister oversees the elementary school as vice principal and also works as a flight attendant.

Oshiro's nephew is the athletic director, although the school had no sports teams last year or this year, and he doesn't teach PE. He and his brother, the film teacher, were hired with just high school degrees, although public school teachers are supposed to have bachelor's degrees and teaching licenses.

A veteran educator, Oshiro was blunt when asked about her hiring practices at the online school, which has 517 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

"I pick certain people with certain characteristics and blind loyalty -- that's uncomfortable to say, but I believe it," she said. "The people who are closely connected to you, you don't have to worry about whether you can trust them and what they're likely to do. If people want to challenge that, be my guest. It's about deliverables and outcomes."

Others say that nepotism at the school shortchanges students as well as taxpayers who pay the salaries of unqualified or unproductive family members. The case raises questions about accountability at charter schools, which have great freedom in choosing their staff and running their campuses although they are publicly funded.

"There are extreme cases of nepotism and favoritism," said Olu Bicoy, a former teacher at Thompson Academy who chose to leave several years ago. "As teachers, we had to go through the Hawaii teacher certification process. However, the family members that were also teaching didn't even have college degrees…

Justin Nidgion, who taught for five years at Thompson Academy before becoming fed up and quitting earlier this year, said: "I was surprised to find that a family can own a public school, and it's not the family whose name is on the school. In their deeds and actions, they treat it like they own it."…

Malia Chow, chairwoman of Thompson's school board, said board members only recently became aware of concerns over nepotism and are addressing the situation. The 11-member board is drafting a policy on hiring and reviewing applicants who are relatives, "so that family members are not involved in the hiring and review," she said…

"We didn't know about this and only wish we had known about it sooner," she added.
FOUNDED IN 2001 and headquartered in a squat, black-glass office building in Kakaako, Thompson is a "virtual school" whose students work from home via computer rather than going to campus daily. Students communicate with their teachers largely via the Internet, and come to campus for electives, such as performing arts…

Without a traditional campus, Thompson Academy remains largely out of sight. Its teachers are reluctant to complain ; all are on year-to-year contracts, despite a provision in the teachers union contract that they should be eligible for tenure after three years. After receiving anonymous complaints, the Star-Advertiser tracked down eight former staff members, most of them teaching at other public and private schools. All of them said family members at Thompson could ignore the rules, and came and went as they pleased.

» Oshiro's sister, Kurumi Kaapana-Aki, is vice principal of the elementary school but also works full time as a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, according to co-workers at the school and the airline. Although Thompson teachers are expected to attend school daily, she was often absent, the former staff members said. Kaapana-Aki did not return phone calls from the Star-Advertiser…

» Kaapana-Aki's son, Andrew Aki, is the athletic director, although the school has not had a sports team for two years and he does not teach the online PE course…

» Zuri Aki, Andrew's brother, was hired in 2003 also with a high school degree, and teaches film. In May, he earned his two-year associate's degree in liberal arts at Leeward Community College. Nidgion said Aki's classes at Thompson largely consisted of watching movies and playing video games with students…

» A third brother, Hanan Aki, works part time as a clerk at Thompson.

The school did not respond to requests for specific salary information, but a 2008 payroll document obtained by the Star-Advertiser showed that Zuri and Andrew were making $28,800 a year for their part-time jobs, while their brother, Hanan, was earning $22,100. That is relatively high, considering that Hawaii public school teachers who do have bachelor's degrees but have not yet completed a state-approved teacher education program start with a salary of $32,700 for full-time work…

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I used to attend there as a student 2004-2006 (I graduated early), While I cannot vouch for Zuri and Hanan, Andrew Aki did "teach" some sports and we did have various sports to play (Basketball, Soccer and Volleyball) until the program ended. I'm not sure why we stopped playing sports, but there was at one point a PE program in which Andrew Aki was active and helping students learn and play "mainland sports".

Unknown said...

I'm not advocating irresponsible hiring practices or favoritism ... especially nepotism.

At the same time, despite abuses, I'm curious of the school's stats.

From what I hear, there's been some students that have graduated ahead of time while maintaining active professional talent contracts and all the commitments that entails.

I've also heard that these students have continued on to college at an early age.

So my question is two-fold ...

1. How does the graduation stats compare to regular public schools?

2. What's the percentage of students that continue their higher education?

3. Despite nepotism ... are we still spending less money per student compared to regular public schools? And getting better results?

p.s.- TENURE!!! Seriously!!! Isn't that what costs, and damages, us most in public education?!

Unknown said...

I'm not advocating irresponsible hiring practices or favoritism ... especially nepotism.

At the same time, despite abuses, I'm curious of the school's stats.

From what I hear, there's been some students that have graduated ahead of time while maintaining active professional talent contracts and all the commitments that entails.

I've also heard that these students have continued on to college at an early age.

So my question is two-fold ...

1. How does the graduation stats compare to regular public schools?

2. What's the percentage of students that continue their higher education?

3. Despite nepotism ... are we still spending less money per student compared to regular public schools? And getting better results?

p.s.- TENURE!!! Seriously!!! Isn't that what costs, and damages, us most in public education?!

Unknown said...

Full-time work for being with students daily and of whom most don't graduate and/or are left behind in one way or another. Especially after graduation.

The results are in the number of Hawaii residents that are emigrating OUT of Hawaii ... and the number of people that are "moving in"!

=P