WEST MAUI - It's no secret that public education in Hawaii has struggled in recent years. Coupled with government attempts to balance budgets to deal with the nation's financial situation, a rough road still lies ahead.
Renewed hope, however, arises in the high-energy lightening that is found in the ever-expanding explosion of current technology.
Online capabilities engender instantaneous access to information and communication that enable ingenious new world advances in education, which have the capabilities to reach out to the masses in faraway places with bright and efficient programs.
Hawaii Technology Academy is one such program. Now into its sixth year of operation, HTA is a public charter school that provides free public education to all students through an open enrollment system.
The program uses a blended learning model - sometimes called a "hybrid" model - in its mission to utilize research-based technology applications and teacher/student/parent involvement to provide a new, innovative model of public charter school education choice adapted to the needs of elementary, middle and high school students statewide.
HTA provides a comprehensive curriculum that meets Hawaii state standards and Common Core requirements through its blended model of instruction.
The combination of distance learning curriculum, face-to-face teacher-supported instruction and the ability to have a full-time learning coach at home create a successful academic environment for students.
High school students are required to earn 26 credits toward graduation, including two years of concentration in one of Fine Arts, World Language or Career and Technical courses.
Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings include English Language and Composition, English Literature and Composition, Psychology, Macroeconomics, Calculus and Physics.
In 2011, HTA was in a crises mode and needed leadership and guidance in a more positive direction.
Former Maui Preparatory Academy Upper School Principal Leigh Fitzgerald had recently returned to the islands after a year in Southern California and learned of the situation.
After contemplating her personal goals and aspirations, she accepted the executive director position of Hawaii Technology Academy.
A Harvard graduate with Bachelor's Degrees in Education and History and a Master's Degree in Administrative Planning and Social Policy, Fitzgerald had moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career opportunity there. She found that she missed Maui too much to stay away any longer.
"I had a nice job situation there, but it just wasn't the same. I needed to come back to Maui," she said. "I had taught at Lahainaluna (in 2003) and then worked at Maui Prep for five years."
Now, Fitzgerald is back with the knowledgeable energy that helped launch Maui Prep's success. She will now apply that focus to HTA.
"I really like the opportunity to connect public, private and charter school education, and my focus will be to stabilize the program and collaborate the alternative learning opportunities.
"We will start to build education around online learning while providing options for student learning that is individualized to fit the student's needs. It is a system that is flexible for transient families, for athletes like surfers that need to travel around the world, artists - something new and different, but still on schedule with the public schools and aligned with their curriculum, staffed by DOE-certified teachers, accountable to the state due to the state funding, and accredited."
The only statewide charter school, HTA currently has an enrollment of 1,200 students, with most of them on Oahu and the rest spread from Kauai and the Big Island.
On Maui, there are about 100 students enrolled, with the majority in Hana and Upcountry.
Fitzgerald heads a staff along with Associate Director of Development Shannon Cleary (also a former teacher at Maui Prep) and Associate Director of Curriculum Libra Ford.
There are six lead coordinators across Hawaii, with Ray Mohrman, another former Lahainaluna and Maui Prep teacher, the Maui representative.
"We are proud of the gains we have made in the last year-and-a-half. We are moving toward meeting the Hawaii State Assessment standards in both math and reading and are confident that we will pass those standards this year, which will be a first for us," she said.
"Our main goal is to find the right educational fit for each student while building our partnerships with schools for diverse opportunities like athletics, robotics, mock trial and more. It is finding options for individual learning with online capabilities coupled with flexibility," she said.
For more information on Hawaii Technology Academy, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (808) 676-5444.