Moving to Hawaii (Part 5): Hawaii State School System

Over the past decade I have helped tens of families moving to Hawaii and relocating jobs, homes, and schools. In Part 5 of my “Moving to Hawaii” blog series I’ll be presenting the Hawaii State School System. Those families making the move to Hawaii with children, no matter the age, will always ask me either, “How are the schools in Hawaii?” or “Todd, you have kids, what schools do they go to?

First, let me state that I firmly believe that a solid educational foundation is one of the primary keys to any child’s development. Having said that, it is also vitally important for the parents, and children, to do their research and find the best education and school that meets the needs of the entire family.

To that end, I have put together an overview of the Hawaii State School System; information, facts, and data that I hope those moving to Hawaii can use when beginning the process of relocation.

moving to hawaii

Hawaii State School System

The Hawaiʻi State Department of Education is currently the only statewide public education system in the United States. The school districts in Hawaii can be thought of as basically the same as the school districts of other cities and communities on the Mainland, but can also be thought of as similar to the state education agencies of other states. The Hawaiʻi State Department of Education oversees all 283 public schools, and charter schools, and over 13,000 teachers in Hawaii. It also serves approximately 175,000+ students annually.

Currently, there is a debate over Hawaii school reform that has to do with the structure of the State Department of Education. Specifically, whether it should remain centralized, or be broken into smaller districts. The main reason given for the current centralized model is equity in distribution of resources. All schools are theoretically funded from the same pool of money on an equitable basis. Supporters of decentralization see it as a means of moving decision making closer to the classroom, and thus achieving better student performance.

Hawaii School’s Ranking and Performance

In their May 2012 Edition Honolulu Magazine graded the 250 schools within the Hawaii Public School System and published their results in the “2012 Public Schools Chart.” For over a decade, Honolulu Magazine has looked closely at the Hawaii public education system, and ranked the schools using D.O.E. data. Year after year, Hawaii state assessment scores and school surveys show a wide, and growing, performance gap.

In 2011, Hawaii public schools celebrated marked improvements in their mathematics and reading scores, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) “The Nation’s Report Card” results. Hawaii was the only state in the U.S. that demonstrated statistically significant improvement in both reading and mathematics at both the 4th and 8th grade level.

Here are the NAEP overall gains in scores from 2003 – 2001 from Hawaii. Hawaii’s rankings in comparison to the Nation are as follows:

  • Grade 4 Mathematics: 4th Highest Gains in the Nation
  • Grade 8 Mathematics: 5th Highest Gains in the Nation
  • Grade 4 Reading: 14th Highest Gains in the Nation
  • Grade 8 Reading: 4th Highest Gains in the Nation

Moving to Hawaii: List of Hawaii Schools by Island

Public High Schools

City Schools
Honolulu CDP 8
Greater Oʻahu 15
Niʻihau 1
Kauaʻi 3
Molokaʻi 1
Lānaʻi 1
Maui 5
Big Island 11

Public Middle Schools

City Schools
Honolulu CDP 24
Greater Oʻahu 17
Niʻihau 1
Kauaʻi 3
Molokaʻi 1
Lānaʻi 1
Maui 6
Big Island 18

Public Elementary Schools

City Schools
Honolulu CDP 55
Greater Oʻahu 76
Niʻihau 1
Kauaʻi 13
Molokaʻi 4
Lānaʻi 1
Maui 17
Big Island 37

Moving to Hawaii: Private Schools and Public Charter Schools

Hawaii, known for its diversity and choice, also offers an excellent selection of both Private and Public Charter Schools. The Hawaii Association of Independent Schools has online resources to help you search, contact, and choose the Private School of your choice statewide. For Public Charter Schools, the Hawaii Public Schools Charter Network provides online research, and resources to navigate the many selections that are available throughout Hawaii.

Moving to Hawaii: Blog Post Reader Requests

Throughout this “Moving to Hawaii” blog series it’s been my pleasure to bring you a primer into what you need to do to prepare for moving to Hawaii. For me, there is no other place that I would rather live and raise my children; period.

There will always, of course, be the obvious tropical setting, sandy beaches, blue Pacific Ocean views, incredibly fresh island food, year-round glorious weather, and Hawaiian sunsets. However, the Hawaiian culture, people, and loving relationships that we build here are what keep me calling Hawaii home.

If there is a topic that you would like to see me write about, or an event that you’d like for me to cover through my blog posts, please feel free to contact me with Reader Requests anytime. I welcome getting to know those who read my blog and someday (hopefully soon) dream, as I did long ago, of moving to Hawaii.

A hui hou!

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35 Responses to “Moving to Hawaii (Part 5): Hawaii State School System”

  1. Tina Ayers
    December 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Todd, we are looking to move in June of 2013. The Big Island is were we are wanting to locate. I am currently looking for a job, I am a school teacher. I have sent all of my certifications on to the Department of Education. Are there other avenues or contacts that may benefit me? Thank you for you time and any information.

    • Todd Barrett, R(S)
      December 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

      Aloha Tina! Thank you for reading my blog post and hopefully you’ve read through the other posts in my “Moving to Hawaii” series. I have sent you an email with additional information and look forward to assisting you. Mahalo!

      • Gerard
        January 23, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

        Hey Todd, I’m also an elementary school teacher moving to Hawaii. I have contacted the Department of Education and am waiting for a reply. I am from England and my qualifications are from the UK. Would you be able to offer any further information or contacts? Much appreciated, Gerard.

    • Todd W Barrett, RS, ABR
      May 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

      Aloha Tina,

      Are you still on track for moving to Hawaii next month?

      Please feel free to contact me directly if there is anything that I can do for you and your family.

      Mahalo nui loa,

      Todd W Barrett, RS
      Accredited Buyer Representative
      Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers

  2. Tanisha
    April 15, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    Todd, my family and I are moving to Oahu in September. I have an 11 year old who will be a sixth grader in the Fall. I am looking for either a good charter or public school for him.

    • Todd Barrett, R(S)
      May 27, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      Aloha Tanisha! Thank you for your comment, and for posting your question on Moving to Hawaii. The links that I have provided in the this post are the most relevant and accurate for your situation. Good luck!

  3. Sandy
    April 22, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    I am looking to relocate to the islands in June. I have applied to DOE but would like any further information about the hiring process. Also any light you could shed on private and charter school hiring would be appreciated. Will be in Maui and Big Island to look for housing next week.

  4. CJ
    May 2, 2013 at 12:28 am #

    We have the opportunity to move to Hawaii. We will be moving from the East Coast. Once a person/family move there, how often do people move back the mainland. I ask because I have seen many reviews of Hawaii. It is about 50/50 on cost, living, entertainment, etc. Any suggestion.

    • Todd Barrett, R(S)
      May 27, 2013 at 11:55 am #

      Aloha CJ! Thank you very much for your comment on Moving to Hawaii, and for reading this post. Moving to Hawaii is a bit different from moving on the Mainland – State to State. In a previous blog post in this series, I addressed the different reasons why people move here, and more importantly, what to expect.

      Please feel free to call or write me directly anytime should you have further questions, or just want to “talk story” about living in Hawaii. Mahalo!

  5. Kedzie
    May 13, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    I am a 28 yr old single mother, with a 6 1/2 yr old daughter. We would like to move to Hawaii, rent first while we get acclimated, secure jobs and schools and learn the areas. What is the #1 safest, best place you would suggest for us, since we have never even been there and are living on a limited budget unfortunately-is this an issue?, but will continue to work and enjoy life. We are coming from Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. If you look it up, it is an amazing place, very well-off, highest ranked schools, etc. I have read everything I can find of yours and am banking on your guidance, thank you!!!

    • Todd W Barrett, RS, ABR
      May 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

      Aloha Kedzie,

      I will be contacting you via email, and hope to be able to answer all of your relocation questions in person. Please feel free to call me directly as well at: 808-937-1629.

      Mahalo nui loa,

      Todd W Barrett, RS
      Accredited Buyer Representative
      Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers

  6. Rebecca
    May 20, 2013 at 5:16 am #

    Hi todd, I am moving to the big island in July of this year. I am trying to figure out how and what I need to enroll my kids in school. I believe they will be going to keaau schools. I will be visiting therein June to pick out a house. Can I enroll them then? I need information for high school and middle school. Thank you.

  7. Chris Halpin
    July 27, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    I’m preparing to retire and would like to do so in Hawaii; I live on Guam now. I want to live in or close to a community that has good medical facilities/services and mass transit. And of course I’d love to like close to the beach, as I’ve become spoiled by Guam life. Given that I’ll be retired, I’ll have a fixed income. If I buy a condo, the cost of the common charges will be more of a consideration that the cost for the condo itself. If I buy a house, I’d like it to be in reasonably good condition so that future repairs such as roofing, plumbing, electrical system/passive power systems won’t need much attention. I’m single with a dog and will have about $300k for a purchase; I don’t want to have to get a mortgage. Given this criteria, what are your suggestions?

  8. Teddy
    September 22, 2013 at 5:08 am #

    Todd, do you mind if I call you to ask a few questions? There is a good chance my husband will get orders there soon, and we have no idea what we’re doing.

    • Todd W Barrett, RS, ABR
      September 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

      Aloha Teddy! Please feel free to call me directly at 808-937-1629. Mahalo nui loa.

  9. Steve Jordan
    October 28, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    Todd, My wife and I are considering relocating to Oahu but the main concern is schooling for our two youg children. We have been vacationing on Oahu every year since 2005 and have fallen in love with Hawaii. We have heard that sending our children to public schools would not be an option as they are not Haiwiian. As I said we love Hawaii but do not want our children to be unhappy.

    • Todd W Barrett, RS, ABR
      October 28, 2013 at 9:27 am #

      Aloha Steve, and thank you for your comment. Public schools in Hawaii are open to all children, regardless of their ethnicity or cultural heritage. The Kamehameha Schools have been set aside for the education of the Hawaiian children though an endowment, but these schools are considered “private”, not public. I suggest that you contact the State of Hawaii Department of Education directly, let them know what are you are seeking to relocate to, and ask for a list of possible public schools in that area. Good luck!

  10. Julie Keller, RS
    December 8, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    Hi Todd,
    Jai’s current school, Waimea Country School, only goes up through 5th grade, so I am searching for my options for next year and came across your blog during my Google search :). Your blogs are always very informative and thoughtful. Big mahalos for sharing your wealth of knowledge in all your great blogs!!

    • Todd W Barrett, RS, ABR
      December 9, 2013 at 9:35 am #

      Aloha Julie! Thank you for your kind words, and am so glad that you found the research in this post helpful. With the Hawaii School system being spread out over the islands, and the Hawaii Department of Education centralized, finding updated information can be confusing at best. Having 4 children myself, I know what it takes to be proactive in your child’s education, and applaud you for you efforts on behalf of Jai. Good luck in placing him next school year, and please feel free to call or write anytime if I can be of assistance. A hui hou!

  11. Julie Keller, RS
    December 9, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Thanks Todd, will do. Appreciate your follow up! A hui hou!

  12. Tamara. Goree
    January 7, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    Hello Todd….. Thanks so much for your information and Insight as it relates to moving to Hawaii. I’m planning a move there in April . We will be living on Hickem Airforce base. Is there any Elementary or Middle Schools you can recommend and what kind of documents will be needed for enrollment. Thank you in advance!!!

    • Todd W Barrett, RS, ABR
      January 9, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

      Aloha Tamara! Thank you for reading and commenting. Please forward your contact information to me at: and include all pertinent details. I will be able to provide you with all of the information that you are seeking. Mahalo nui loa!

  13. Wendy
    January 22, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    Hi Todd! My family and I desperately want to move to Hawaii. I’m a school teacher and have been for 16 years. I applied for a DOE job but I’m sure tons of others did as well. My husband is a landscaper and master gardener. We currently live in Pennsylvania. We are ready to trade in winter for sunshine year round. We do our own organic gardening and want to move to a place where we can grow year round. We would need a combined income of $90,000-$100,000 to make it work. We have 3 children. Is it possible for us to secure jobs before arrival? I would appreciate any advice you could give us. We want to move to Big Island-Honolulu is way to expensive for us. Thanks!

  14. Pam Trowbridge
    January 24, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    Todd, we are considering Hawaii for retirement. We currently live in Louisiana, but have lived in Miami for 10 years – with a 10 year break in the middle in Key West. We loved most of living in Key West, but I really do not like the cruise ship tourists and the tacky tourist stuff. My husband is a structural engineer whose employer has a large presence in Hawaii so he may do some consulting. Suggestions for islands and communities.

    • Todd W Barrett, RS, ABR
      January 24, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

      Aloha Pam! Thank you for your comments, and I’ll be sending you a private email to begin the discussion for island and community suggestions. As well, please feel free to contact me directly at Mahalo!

  15. Gerard
    January 24, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

    Hey Todd, I’m also an elementary school teacher moving to Hawaii. I have contacted the Department of Education and am waiting for a reply. I am from England and my qualifications are from the UK. Would you be able to offer any further information or contacts? Much appreciated, Gerard.

  16. Kristin cocci
    January 26, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    Hello Todd,

    I’d love some thoughts about a relocation to Kuaui. We have twin 51/2 year old boys and my husband is a Chef. I am a pharmaceutical rep and would more than likely need a career change to make the move. What are your thoughts on Schools, and main areas that people relocate to on Kuaui? We currently live outside of Memphis TN and are looking to possibly start a business in the Poipu or general area but would love some insight. We are originally from the NJ Shore and really like the laid back atmosphere of Kuaui and how much it feels like home. Please feel free to email me your thoughts! We love the show!


  17. Keith Jenkins
    January 30, 2014 at 5:44 am #

    Hey Todd, I’m plan on moving to Hawaii next year and looking to rent at first
    My company has opening in Ohau But I like to move to the up country in Maui
    but the Ewa area is nice do you have any listing in Maui or Ohau with good school
    for my 11 year old son. I also had two son that live on the Island of Lanai, any info would help
    with my search.

  18. Brittany
    February 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Hello Todd,

    We’re hoping to move to Hawaii soon, in the next year or two. We both just started on our first year of college and we have a 2 year old baby girl. I’m looking into getting started in Marine Biology & most of the classes I’d need to take aren’t offered here in my area. Do you know any schools that would help us make the move so we can avoid moving twice? Thanks!

    • Pam Trowbridge
      February 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

      Brittany, I would not want to discourage you from moving to Hawaii, but have you investigated Key West and Florida Keys Community College with its wonderful program? They partner with one of the Florida universities and if you started your education there you could move to Hawaii later on with a great start.

  19. Freddie Berry
    August 9, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    Mahalo Todd! I am a real estate appraiser and I want to move to Hawaii but have not had much luck finding work out there. I have a wife and a 9 yo son who also want to move there. We fell in love with the islands! We were married there and returned for an island cruise. My son even says he wants to go to college there!! Any advice would be helpful….

    • Todd W Barrett, RS, ABR
      August 10, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

      Aloha Freddie! Thank you for taking the time to read through my Moving to Hawaii blog posts on relocating to the islands. I’ve sent you an email with some information that I hope you will find helpful. Mahalo nui loa!

      Todd W Barrett, RS, ABR
      (808) 937-1629

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