PF Bentley/Civil Beat

MOUNTAIN VIEW, HAWAII — At 5:45 each school morning, Daniel Caluya wakes up the homeless people and transient drug addicts who are camped out in the open-air walkways. After encouraging them to move on, he collects and discards needles and other paraphernalia. Then Caluya welcomes roughly 130 elementary school children to the Na Wai Ola campus.

Caluya — or “Mr. C,” as most of the kids know him — is the principal of Na Wai Ola, a public charter school near Hilo on the eastern slopes of Mauna Loa, wedged between fertile, banana tree-lined pastures in the quiet Big Island town of Mountain View.

There, Caluya, 52, is helping the school overcome challenges that many principals can hardly imagine.

Na Wai Ola is located in the heart of Puna, one of the poorest districts in the state. Data from the 2009 American Community Survey indicates that Mountain View and the neighboring towns of Pahoa, Kalapana and Keaau — where many of Na Wai Ola’s students live — are among the five poorest areas in the state. An average of roughly one in four residents of those towns lives below the poverty line; that’s about two times the statewide poverty rate, according to U.S. Census data.

The area has, not surprisingly, been described as Hawaii’s “poor stepchild,” and, at face value, Na Wai Ola could easily be one of the most dysfunctional schools in the state. After all, for much of its 13-year existence, the school was on the verge of being shuttered over financial mismanagement and a lack of meaningful oversight.

And things are hardly more stable for the students in their home lives; 78 percent of his students are homeless, according to Caluya.


Photo Credit: PF Bentley of Civil Beat