Date of Award

Spring 3-21-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

John H. Ciesluk

Second Advisor

Stephen Gould

Third Advisor

Kapono Ciotti


In Hawai‘i, the Hawaiian-focused charter school emerged as a call to action in communities that desired places of learning grounded in Native Hawaiian epistemologies, pedagogy, culture, language, and self-determination. Driven by the intention to decolonize schooling, Hawaiian-focused charter schools are still obligated to abide by the United States federal and Hawai‘i state mandates of publicly funded institutions. This phenomenological study sought to explore the experiences of eight po‘o kumu (leaders) from seven Hawaiian-focused charter schools as they develop kula (schools) from within the community, culturally rooted and responsive, while operating in a modern, Western context. Through face-to-face interviews, po‘o were asked to reflect on how they define their work; the values, epistemologies, and skills that sustain their leadership; the experiences and policies that support and inhibit what they aim to do; and the effects that federal and state mandates have had on their ability to lead successfully. Interviews were transcribed and In Vivo coded, resulting in 21 po‘omana‘o (themes) in response to the three guiding research questions, as well as eight findings. Key conclusions from this study indicate that po‘o kumu of Hawaiian-focused charter schools engage in complex and highly responsive leadership, motivated and driven by a commitment to their haumāna (students), communities, and lāhui (Native Hawaiian people). Mutually beneficial relationships are critical in carrying out their work. Inequitable resources and larger systemic issues inhibit their ability to lead effectively. While po‘o held mixed opinions about the ways in which federal and state education reforms affected their roles as leaders, all po‘o agreed upon a desire for self-determination in measures of student assessment and school accountability and a synergy of Western and Native Hawaiian practices for their Hawaiian-focused charter schools. Key recommendations include continued efforts by the po‘o kumu to gather for mutual support, especially regarding federal and state mandates; to collaborate on culturally relevant assessments; and to mobilize to increase visibility and awareness of Hawaiian-focused charter schools. Future research should include a larger and/or more diverse group of po‘o, the tracking of changes in reflections in leadership over time, and a comparison of findings with other types of schools (public charter, public Department of Education, independent) to assist in understanding the phenomenology of Hawaiian-focused charter schools and zoom in on what can be learned from Hawaiian-focused charter schools specifically.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.



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