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Brighter Future - Extended Version

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

(page 4 of 6)

Carey: I had the great privilege of being on the Punahou Board. In fact, I just came from a board meeting and Punahou has redefined the educational delivery for the younger kids. In the middle school, for example, they have pods of 92 kids with all of the subjects and all four teachers in the pods all cooperating and they all coordinate on the students. It is a different education now, and because if Mrs. Jones and Mr. Smith do not agree on Johnny down here in the model that you described then Johnny does not like Mrs. Jones and likes Mrs. Smith better. When Mrs. Jones and Mr. Smith have to get together and say what are we doing about Johnny, it makes a real difference in the output delivery for them.

Coppa: Candy and I have an opportunity to go to Los Angeles to see one of those schools and they work in pods.

Suiso: Really, they all coordinate. They talk to each other and so that the kids spend a whole semester working on a project, a very intense project, intense reading, writing, research. The English and Social Studies teachers are in the same class and they share the same students, so when the bell rings they do not need to move. It is a very different bell schedule and a very different school day, and a very, very different way of teaching, and the kids get it.

In L.A., we visited a rural area with very low test scores, high dropout rate quite similar to our district, but you saw kids who were engaged and excited. Learning was relevant, they were having fun, they were working together collaboratively, and ultimately, is not that what we want for our kids when they leave high school – we want them to be team players. We want them to have respect for self, respect for others. “What do you want in the work world?” we always ask. “What do you look for?” That is what we want to do: prepare these kids for the real world and that is working collaboratively.

Carey: When they work collaboratively the peer pressure for individual performance rises.

Coppa: When we dealt with this model, if you were not performing, do you know who called the parent?

Suiso: The student.

Coppa: Yes, the student called the parent.

Suiso: You got fired from your group.

Witt: We want the kids to grow up with 21st century skills. We want them to be project based, team-based, collaborative. If we want them to have good communication skills, the adults in the schools have to model that behavior. So we would have to create a different adult learning culture in our school so that the adults are showing the kids this is how it is done. (We need to show) we teachers are working in teams; we are collaborating; we are taking risks with one another; we are evaluating each other; we are pushing each other.

Carey: It also makes the peer review process of teacher’s work easier because they are used to working with each other.

Suiso: The teacher becomes a facilitator. You asked: How can you support the teacher? Make sure in these settings, the teachers have the resources in the classroom and they are trained so that they can train their students how to work in groups. It got to the point where we saw students saying, “OK, leave me alone. I just want to do my work,” and three or four of them worked together in front of the computer or in a group. The teachers just make sure that they are doing their work and they are meeting their deadline using technology as a tool for learning.

Silberstein: A lot of the instructional aspects that you just mentioned are in place now. They are starting this transformation especially with restructured schools. At Palolo, we have gone through all of this where the students have to be engaged, we’re into critical thinking, we’re into avid education discovery and a lot of teaming is taking place among our staff. It was not easy for the two years that we worked at this change, it was very hard on my teachers. But today, I cannot say how proud I am of the teachers at Palolo School. They went through that painful experience and it is no longer “my classroom,” it is “our school.” We are accountable for every student.

Carey: Yes. The best performance measurement may not be the individual entirely. It may be by team and that also gauges peer support.

Petranik: How did you motivate teachers through that difficult, two-year process?

Silberstein: We were fortunate that for two years of restructuring to have Edison Alliance (a private company hired by the DOE to help restructuring schools). They came in and they turned us inside out. Things that we should have been doing years ago were never done and so the attitude of every teacher had to change, the work ethic and atmosphere in the classroom had to change. Gone were all those kiddy posters. Now it was educational charts. The way we spoke to the students, the way we prepared the data analysis monthly, changing instructions throughout the weeks, formative assessments besides the HAS (Hawaii State Assessment annual tests). Now, we test our students every month. The teachers get together, we look together at the results and ask, “Where are the weak areas?” or “We need to regroup kids, these are the best practices that I am going to use.” A lot of collaboration.

Coppa: Have you brought that to the Board of Education? To me that’s a model the board would embrace.

Witt: But I think that’s leaving one thing out. We really underestimate how resistant any culture is whether it is a hotel or a school or a magazine. People do not like to change.

Silberstein: Yes.

Witt: But how do we change? At Palolo, a person was making that change happen and that was Ruth, and Ruth has probably figured out how to model the kinds of behaviors that she wants her teachers to engage in, but somebody had to give them permission to behave differently. It usually comes from a transformative leader like Ruth. That demonstrates the central importance of the building principle that person has to embody these types of 21st century leadership competencies and capacities to get movement within a fairly rigid school culture. I do not know exactly what you did Ruth but I know that you did something, otherwise there would not be any movement, so I think the credit always goes to a single person or a team of leaders working together.

Petranik: Ruth, can you confirm there was resistance?

Silberstein: Oh, there was. It was so painful. Tears, anger, the arrows at me.

Petranik: And how did you get them through to the Promised Land?

Silberstein: I had to keep focused no matter what and treat them with the respect that is due to every educator. As for the arrows, I had to not let it get me down, although I am human and it was very painful for everyone.

Husted: In organizational development, there are four stages. You form and then you storm, and when she moved to a new direction that is the storming stage and that is where most people quit. They quit at the storming stage. They do not get onto the norming or performing stages.

Carey: In the state government system, there are lots of easy opportunities to help stall processes like that.

Husted: Yeah and part of it is that we have a lot of people in the DOE who are not in good fits. The fact that somebody was a successful school administrator does not mean that they are going to be very good at working in the budget office or they are going to really good working in other places, no more than I was a great chemistry teacher so now you make me an elementary principal. There’s a lot of misfitting of people into places in the process.

I would like to pick up on something Candy talked about and that is a longer day. When Don Nugent was assistant superintendent for personnel – he was just a great assistant superintendent – we looked at the Las Vegas school system, which at that point ran its schools from 7 in the morning to 10 in the evening. They had different shifts because in Las Vegas, adults were working at casinos during the day – they were not working Penney’s and the drugstores and what have you – so they wanted the kids, especially the high school kids, to be able to work businesses, clerking jobs, and what have you, and so they had to adjust the school day. In 1997, we came out with a 12-month year for teachers and we were going to pilot it in three schools in each of the seven districts. Instead of teachers having intercessions off, they would do curriculum planning. They might run extra classes for youngsters who need it, and you got your summer break. The only thing that stopped this was $54 million. We could not implement it because it would have cost $54 million.

We (the Hawaii State Teachers Association) have supported the longer day. We have supported the longer year and we keep tripping over what it is going to cost to do that, not just for teachers and making school administrators 12 months, but aides who are now going to 12 months. We are always going to trip over that until we figure out a way to resolve that issue. Even in a 190-day year, if you give the planning days, you are talking $140 million over two years just at the current salaries, just for teachers. I am not talking about principals and anybody else in that process, but we are going to have to do it. We have got to change our system. We are just foolish if we think we can run schools on the same time and the same year we do now.

Petranik: We have hit on a key topic: money. I am going to ask the business people first but I want everybody to chime in. David, is there money to be saved in the school system that we can then spend in a classroom?

Carey: In my own opinion, based on what I have seen in the administrative side, if you re-engineered the central office, there is a lot of money that could be put in the classroom. One of the examples is the OHR, Office of Human Resources. It is a manual system. Now, in manual systems you need a lots of people, you need lots of files, you needs lots of space. In a computerized system, you do not. In the financial system, where everything is automated and things come through, you need fewer people. The problem is technology has to be invested. Those systems need to be changed and that takes two to three years. So maybe the answer is, over time, if you re-engineer the business processes, I believe there is a whole lot of money associated with it. The challenge is: it does not come quick and you have to invest more first to get that. Investing in computers and changing processes, eliminating processes, and doing all of that kind of stuff.

Coppa: There was a lot of waste in offices, the facilities. We are spending money on antiquated facilities, and David’s point is you have got to invest a lot of money upfront to be efficient, but there are returns in the long term.

Carey: A simple example to that is the air conditioning unit. The maintenance guy goes out once a month to fix the same air conditioning unit. What you really need to do is replace the unit. Then it does not need repair for three to five years.

Petranik: Can we put a specific number on the savings?

Carey: It would take some real time to find out. I would be reluctant to make a guess, but my instincts say there is a lot of savings possible.

Coppa: There were studies done to show the efficiencies that could be made by having certain things done. Just the lighting system alone, we could save electricity in a number of ways. There is a whole thing about sustainability, but that takes upfront money to invest so that we recognize it long term. There are some pools we are filling up once a week to keep them full because they leak; you put on a patch, but then in three months you are re-patching, and so you have got to invest and that is the heavy lifting.

Carey: The other piece, which is perhaps more controversial and there has been some dialogue in the community about that, is the evaluation and the efficient use of the buildings and facilities based on the number of students requiring them. You have some schools that are underutilized and some schools that do not have enough space, yet, it is a difficult local community process to rebalance those assets.

Coppa: Private developers would step in and invest if they could use that facility during off-peak times for schools.

Carey: The notion is that perhaps schools can capitalize on real estate value of underutilized facilities. That capital investment maybe means the community gets a win-win.

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