Interim Honokaa principal steps in

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A graduate of Honokaa High &Intermediate has temporarily taken the reins at the school as the state continues an investigation into allegations of mismanagement by Principal Marcella McClelland.

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A graduate of Honokaa High &Intermediate has temporarily taken the reins at the school as the state continues an investigation into allegations of mismanagement by Principal Marcella McClelland.

Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena Complex Area Superintendent Art Souza placed McClelland on leave in May after unrest among teachers and parents over her leadership boiled over at a high-profile meeting of the School Community Council. The principal walked out of the meeting after attendees levied a multitude of complaints against her, including charges that she had demoted qualified teaching staff and replaced them with unqualified teachers in finalizing this year’s teaching assignments.

At the time of her removal, Souza said he had done so out of concerns both for her safety and for the smooth operation of the school as graduation approached. He also launched an investigation into the allegations of mismanagement, which was eventually taken over by an independent investigator assigned by the state Department of Education.

That investigation continues, Souza said Friday, making it necessary for him to appoint an interim principal to maintain order at the school until a decision is reached regarding McClelland.

“We have an investigator who has started a preliminary investigation of materials,” he said, “and Rachelle Matsumura is standing in as principal.”

The former Honokaa Elementary and Paauilo Elementary principal said Friday that she was notified about two weeks ago that she would be assigned to Honokaa through December.

“I know he (Souza) is hopeful (the investigation) will be done by December,” she said.

Matsumura said she was happy to have the academic year under way after the first day on Wednesday. Now, she plans to focus on three primary goals while she is at the school.

“One, to maintain the safety and security here,” she said. “Two, that we remain focused on learning. To have all the children learning every day and every minute. And three, doing everything with aloha and respect.”

The interim principal said she had already held two meetings of the School Community Council in an effort to increase transparency and dialogue with the school community. And in less than two weeks, she will launch a series of meetings to boost parent involvement and sharing of information.

“Monday the 10th we’re going to be starting with grade-level meetings so that we can talk to parents and have very intimate conversations about expectations at school,” she said.

Matsumura said she is returning to a school she knows exceedingly well, having graduated from Honokaa High and later working there for 10 years as a senior English teacher and later as vice principal. She has also worked at Kohala Elementary, Honokaa Elementary and Paauilo Elementary.

The interim principal added that she is currently wrestling with an unexpected spike in enrollment.

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“We’ve gone up to 685 students in seventh through 12th grades. Our ninth grade class is huge, with 178. We’ve only budgeted for 624 students,” she said. “We’re still trying to hire teachers. We have two substitutes. And our class sizes are larger this year. We have class sizes pushing the 30s. Classes were around (26) before.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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