New Charter School to Focus on AI and Data Science

A newly-formed public charter school is set to open in Honolulu in August with a curriculum centered on data science and artificial intelligence. Kulia Academy will launch with 100 sixth graders and plans to eventually serve 700 students in grades six through twelve.

The school’s name means “strive” and “thrive” in Hawaiian, exemplifying its mission “to prepare a diverse student population for success in college and beyond.” It aims to educate future contributors to society through hands-on learning and foundational skills presented in relevant, inspiring ways.

“We came up with the idea that data science and AI will be the rising careers of the future,” Kulia Academy Executive Director Andy Gokce told Hawaii Public Radio. “Every single career, no matter what—psychology, law, whatever you name—they will require AI in the future. So we said we need to teach data science and AI.”

Kulia Academy will provide technology-rich computer science coursework, including a six-year curriculum track covering AI and data science topics from MIT, Stanford, UCLA and other institutions. It plans to continually update its program with input from university professors.

“Graduates of Kulia Academy are scientific thinkers who contribute to the global community as socially responsible and educated members of society,” the school stated in an overview document.

Kulia Academy was one of just two new charter schools approved in Hawaii since 2017 out of 17 applicants. It will admit students via a public lottery if applications exceed available spots, with priority given only to children of staff and board members. The school will occupy the former St. John the Baptist School site in Kalihi.

“We’ve been at this for about eight years since 2016, looking at a charter school that would provide STEM AI education for students, and particularly in areas where they may not have the exposure to have that type of curriculum in their school,” said Karen Awana, a Kulia Academy board member, in the HPR interview.

The school aims to help address education gaps in the Kalihi community, which has some of Hawaii’s highest concentrations of poverty and lowest-performing schools in math and reading proficiency. Kulia Academy will partner with various community organizations to provide tutoring, afterschool programs and other student and family supports.

“We aim to help close the achievement gap in our target area through our instructional model and through using a robust response to intervention program,” the school wrote in its proposal. It also plans to offer adult technology classes to community members in the future.

Kulia Academy will implement a “saturated counseling model,” providing one counselor for every 100 high school students to guide college and career planning. Counselors will track students through high school and into their first year of college.

“The only way to reach our high college enrollment targets is to intentionally, intensively work with parents and students, build teacher-student-parent triads with the leadership of our counselors, pay attention to their needs and interests, go the extra mile, communicate and educate them and start planning and working with them early on,” the school declared.

Other key aspects of Kulia Academy’s model include inquiry and project-based learning, dual enrollment options, and “leadership training” courses focused on communication, cultural competency and character development. It will partner with organizations like Kokua Kalihi Valley for culturally responsive activities.

The school is currently in its planning stages, with a two-year pre-opening period. It has secured a facility and is hiring teachers and staff. Gokce, who has helped start over 10 other charter schools, will lead the school. Awana and other board members bring education, nonprofit and community experience.

“Our hope is to increase college-going rates through Kulia’s scientific thinking method of education, focus on the Hawaii 2.0 economy and our Modified Saturated Counseling Model,” Awana told HPR.

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