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Brighter Future - Extended Version

Six local leaders offer money-saving ideas and better teaching strategies for schools

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Coppa: You could spend a lifetime just keeping an eye on all of these mandates that come out of the Legislature, whether it is for skin care or class size, and there are just too many. Instead, we should give the power to the principals.

Carey: On the issue of governance, if there is no relationship to the fiscal responsibility, it is almost impossible. One of the problems of the existing board is they are not in the governor’s system and they are not in the legislative system and they have no taxing power and no ability to manage the budget except what is given to them. If the board was appointed, it would be part of the governor’s administration, and I am not necessarily defending that, but at least the administration is responsible for serving up the budget and is accountable for the budget. But it does not solve the problem that Joan talked about, micromanagement and interference by the Legislature. I am all in favor of lump sum budgeting and I think that really works, provided that you have the range of outcome measurements for the institution like educational performance that go along with lump sum budgeting.

Petranik: Ruth, you run a school. Do you want a lump sum that you would have more control over?

Silberstein: I don’t mind having more control provided it is not over things that have nothing to do with education and instruction. Don’t ask me to handle food services while I am trying to get the teachers to instruct the kids, giving them the better practices and training. It’s like our hands are tied with the way budget is given. I cannot save the money that I need for a teacher next year, even though I know I can save money somewhere else now, but I cannot carry it over and use it to get that teacher. My hands are tied when they will say, “You cannot use that money. You have to use it for materials.” And I am yelling, “I need a teacher not the materials.” Categorical funds can’t be used for the kids, you have to use them for something else. Our hands are really tied in a lot of ways.

Petranik: How much of the education budget at your school to you have control over?

Silberstein: About 70 percent.

Petranik: What about 90 percent?

Silberstein: I would not mind 90 percent, where I can say I need that teacher and please let us carry over to next year to use for a teacher.

Carey: To build on your theme of instruction vs. administration: There is a business of running and fixing buildings and budgets, which does not necessarily have anything to do with delivering instruction. Somebody has got to keep the books, make sure the halls get cleaned and the air conditioners get repaired, and so forth, but that is not necessarily related to instruction and is a separate skill. An educator does not necessarily learn how to be an asset manager or a building manager. 

Petranik: Do you want the person who does those functions at the school or somewhere else?

Carey: It probably depends on the efficiencies and the size. If you have a fully developed high school that has several buildings and a large campus it might make sense to have that person onsite. Or it might make sense to create a new complex efficiently covered by a controller or, if the district is small, it might make sense to put it at the district. It all depends.

Coppa: It is like a building; hire a manager who manages the building and that’s their responsibility. You make the phone call: “The air is not working. The pool is not working.” That is all the school should have to do. Whether or not that function is at the DOE’s central office, it makes sense to have a separate administrator.

Petranik: If we let principals focus mainly on instruction, how should we evaluate them?

Coppa: I think we should base it on student performance. They should get an increase and rewards for good outcomes.

Petranik: And get fired if they do not deliver?

Coppa: They did it in Rhode Island last week.

Husted: Or they tried to.

Coppa: Do they get fired? It’s like our business; we won’t just fire someone. We will give you a process, bring you in and say, “You’re not performing in these areas, this needs to be picked up.” We go from that process, so if the goals are not met, then you’re gone.

Petranik: Would the process take into account that certain schools have, say, more poverty-income students?

Coppa: That is part of the student-weighted formula, considering whether English is a second language. At Princess Kaiulani Elementary School in Kalihi across from Tamashiro Market, they will tell you it is very tough. During the day the teachers will try to get the students to learn English, and when students go home, they fall back to their culture and practices. You have to take those things into account in evaluation, and educators need to be rewarded if they meet certain goals. Every school cannot be the same.

Carey: Pay for performance only works really well when the measurements are understood by both sides and they are fair. The longitudinal measurement of academic performance has not yet come to pass in public schools. That would really help and that’s longitudinal by student, regardless of where they go, regardless of what grade they are in, and until you have a base measurement system that everybody says, “This is the system and we like it,” pay for performance is really tough. It is not to say that you don’t have people everyone knows, whether it be on a peer basis or by evaluation of principals, they are not measuring up, but it is complicated particularly in a large system.

Suiso: What would also be difficult is every school is different and so how are you going to evaluate the principal? Because their scores went up? Are you going to evaluate them and say they are good because they have been able to retain teachers?

Witt: I think it would be difficult to evaluate principals like Ruth unless we agreed upon, as David suggested, what we mean by student learning. If we are going to evaluate Ruth on student learning getting better, and if we assume that student learning gets better when teaching gets better, and teaching gets better when Ruth has the time to get into classrooms and coach and mentor her teachers, then the question becomes: Does Ruth have the time to do that given all of her administrative duties? I have visited a good number of public schools. The front office staff of a public school looks very different than that of a private school. There is simply is not enough support staff at the school level (in public schools) to do that.

To build on Candy’s idea, my proposal would be to look at the way private school principals are evaluated. Every school is different, public or private. The person who knows best what the school needs to do over the next three to five years is the principal. Ruth knows what she needs to do to move her school forward in the next three to five years. To begin, we should allow Ruth to sit down with somebody, maybe the Board of Education, and develop target goals for her. Ruth would set five or six or ten institutional goals that she would hope to achieve and then we have an agreement. David said there has to be an agreement. I think Ruth would set the stage. She would have somebody sign off on that with her and then evaluate each year how much progress has been made toward those goals because you simply cannot have the same system for every single school.

Petranik: Is that what private schools do when they hire a principal? The goals are set out in advance?

Witt: It can be done every year. It can be done every three years. Every five years. It can be done in conjunction with an accreditation cycle. Slow improvement that is both instructional and institutional, and I would suggest you have a few goals in each area. It could be done on an annual basis but that is probably too short. I would suggest five or six years and that would also encourage principals to see a cycle of improvement as being five or six years. Principals would stay in long enough to see that through and then perhaps longer, and you can actually measure these agreed-upon goals for a particular school because Palolo Elementary is different from Waianae High School.

Husted: Work has already been done on that particular issue and I think Candy is aware of what we called Model O, which was a performance-based salary schedule that we negotiated with the state in 1997, then could not get them to implement it. What was in Model O that does not get talked about very much was called the School Bonus System, the idea that a school is a team. It is not just principal and teachers, but custodians and your cafeteria workers and your school secretary and your clerks, all make up a team that move a school along. And so what the Department of Education’s Office of Evaluation did is they came up with a formula that fit every school. Waianae High School would have one formula based on what its test scores were, its dropout rate, its attendance rate, and they came up with a whole formula, and then what Model O did is it said, “If you meet your benchmarks that get set by the school or you move something by one percentage point, then everybody in the school got a bonus.”

Coppa: That is how we evaluate and give bonuses in private business.

Husted: And that process still exists; in fact, it was put into Race for the Top (a new federal education program).

Coppa: But we cannot do it one formula for every school. There are too many differences.

Husted: Most people do not understand testing. If I have moved all the kids from 00 to the 20th percentile, but this teacher moved them from 60 to the 80th percent, who made the greatest gain? Well the one from 00 to 20th percentile. That is just the nature of standardized testing.

Carey: There needs to be a sea change attitudinally in state government institutions. In private business, if you do nine out of 10 things well, you get a bonus and a pat on the back, and you made a mistake, well fine. The challenge in a lot of state government agencies, if you make that 10th mistake, there is a whole process about, “Oh my God! Someone has made a mistake on this one thing.” Now, we need to set up a system and process so that that mistake will never get made again. Well, if you roll that over a period of time, people are smart: They figure out, “I am not going to do anything that is going to cause the ire of the system to go after me. It does not matter that I did nine things right, I got zinged for the one thing that I did wrong.” So you roll that times 20 years and pretty soon no one in the system is willing to take a risk or do anything.

Witt: I think we should reward principals for what somebody said recently: Fail early and fail often. We need risk-taking, adventurous, innovative, creative principals that are willing to try new things. I think part of the evaluation should be that there are two or three goals that are fail-able, because that would prove that Ruth is trying some new things and taking some risks. We do not have research and development in education. So the research and development really relies upon the principal who knows his or her school, takes risks, experiments, pilots new programs, fails now and then, but at least makes the effort. David is right. We do not have that kind of mind set in our state and therefore Ruth might try some of those things but she might not tell anybody.

Coppa: It’s what Candy did. She stepped out of the box and achieved something great.

Witt: Candy was so far away from downtown (laughter).

Husted: Neighbor Island teachers like that, too.

Suiso: I believe there a lot of really exciting, innovative principals in the Department of Education. They just do not have the time or energy to do the innovative stuff. They are out-of-the-box thinkers but they are so caught up right now in just dealing with the issues going on now. We have a new principal at Waianae High School (Nelson Shigeta), and he is trying to not only figure out what was done before him but he is trying to deal with the school right now, and he is trying to look ahead and deal with programs like Searider Productions, where we want to be a new tech network school. He is all over the place. I hear him speak about what he wants to do for Waianae. He says things like, “If it is not going to happen now, it may never happen,” which I believe, but he does not have the time or the energy to do it because he is so caught up doing the day-to-day work. He cannot mentor his vice principals. He cannot go into the classrooms to see what the teachers are doing. He is just stuck and it is depressing.

Witt: He doesn’t have the staff.

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