Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Off with their heads!"

This Sunday's Star Bulletin ran an article on Hawaii State superintendent of schools, Patricia Hamamoto's push for the legislature to give the DOE more power to replace teachers, principals and staff at some campuses that have been failing the No Child Left Behind law despite extra support to help them raise student achievement over the years.

The plan would allow Hamamoto to replace staff if the school was in restructuring for at least three years. The proposal would allow Hamamoto to replace workers at schools that have been under restructuring for three years or longer. It also could change membership of school community councils and control of the campus could be handed over to private companies.

Harsh? I thought so, but the most interesting thing about this topic is that the comments to this article are not really all that harsh. In fact, I was intrigued by the number of posts that think that this idea sounds pretty logical, and despite the all or nothing nature of this proposal, many people thought it might work to bring up scores.

According to the article,
"28 state schools, including one charter school, have been unable to exit restructuring in three or more years, prompting the Education Department to consider "reconstituting" those schools - a more aggressive aspect of restructuring aimed at changing a school's culture.

"What we are trying to do is work with those schools that are not making significant academic growth after three or more years," Assistant Superintendent Daniel Hamada said about the idea, noting schools have had "the opportunity to improve."
Hamada's saying that the 28 schools have had "the opportunity to improve" basically means that 5 million was given to these schools to implement the program of the day (like America's Choice), provide training to at least one overworked teacher leader that then becomes the one responsible for getting the rest of the hostile staff to buy into the program, as well as consultants that come in and check your bulletin boards. When one program is not working, they bring in the next program of the day.

The 28 schools they're looking at for possible replacement of staff (teachers and principals) are: Honolulu District: Central Middle, Dole Middle, Kalihi Kai; Central District: Wahiawa Elementary, Wahiawa Middle; Leeward District: Kamaile Elementary Public Charter School*, Maili Elementary, Nanaikapono Elementary, Nanakuli Elementary, Nanakuli High and Intermediate, Waianae Intermediate, Waipahu Elementary, Waipahu Intermediate; Windward District: Kahaluu Elementary, Parker Elementary Hawaii District: Hilo Intermediate, Kalanianaole Elementary and Intermediate, Kau High and Pahala Elementary, Keeau Middle, Kealakehe Elementary, Kealakehe Intermediate, Laupahoehoe High and Elementary, Naalehu Elementary and Intermediate, Pahoa High and Intermediate; Maui County: Hana High and Elementary, Kaunakakai Elementary, Molokai High, Molokai Middle

* The Education Department's proposal to the Legislature would allow Hamamoto to recommend that a charter school be reconstituted. (Source: Dept. of Education)

Here's what's pissing me off about this. I admit that I'm no longer in the "system" and in fact have been out of the system for 6 years now, but you know that thing with people that have lost weight -- when you see them every day, you don't notice, but for those people that are on the outside, who haven't seen this person every day, they notice when there's a change. . .well I have not been in the DOE system to see the changes every day, but I've been watching from the outside, and what I see breaks my heart. I listed the schools and it all looks very "dataish," but I know these schools. I've been on the campus of every single school that's listed from Hawaii District. I know some of these principals and teachers. I know what they bring to the table. What experiences they have, what training they've been through. What talents have been squashed and swallowed in these six years. I've been watching the disempowerment of these strong, talented teachers who know their students more than any consultant will ever know these students. They understand their communities more than any outside program will ever understand their communities. Yes, I am the coward who left. Who could not stomach the feeling of helplessness. I am the one who stood in front of my AP class at Hilo High and realized that there were no Hawaiian kids and decided to leave the system, follow the Hawaiian kids to what many believe is a "cushy" job at an independent school. But I've been watching and mourning for my colleagues who had the guts to stay, and the professionalism to try and make it work.

The state of California has 100 schools who have not met AYP in over six years, and yet only 10 of them opted to hand school management over. Even with that, there were very mixed results. ????

I think Hamamoto needs to talk directly to Lehua Veincent, principal of Keaukaha School, who brought his school out of restructuring by knowing his kids, knowing their strengths, bringing in the community to educate the children, and bringing in support staff who also knew these kids and were committed to helping them. While she's at it, come talk to Merle Yoshida (Kalanianaole School) and Cynthia Perry (Pahoa High and Intermediate). Give the power back to the teachers who know these kids, are committed to seeing them succeed, and are committed to these communities where they live and work. I mourn because our teachers, my friends, must work in a hostile environment where their voices are not valued, their experience is not treasured, their cries for help fall on deaf ears. You can replace these teachers and their 20 years of experience, but there's no one out there who will love these kids and love this community as much. Look closely at these teachers, especially our outer island teachers. They are not sending their kids to private school. They are born and raised in these communities. Why would they stay so long in a profession that does not treat them as professionals if not for the kids that they cannot leave behind? They ho'omau (persevere) because they must.

They DESERVE more power. They DESERVE to be heard. We need to LISTEN with our mind open and our mouth closed.

Originally posted in Mana'o for educators