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Brighter Future - Extended Version

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

(page 3 of 6)

Carey: Would you feel that he gets the necessary administrative support service out of the Central Office.

Husted: I think the Central Office has to be revamped. I am not a great believer in letting all the Central Office stuff come down to the districts and to the school level. Even when they sent all the electric bills down it drove everybody nuts. Maui High School was paying for Maui Community College’s bills and the principal is going, “What is going on here? That is not what I signed on for.”  You have to discuss what you want your school system to function as. An appointed school board is not going to significantly change the life of school administrators, schoolteachers, custodians and cafeteria workers.

Carey: But it might change the business processes at the central office, which in my mind are Byzantine. The largest employer in the state has a manual personnel system. It has a financial traffic system but cannot keep track of stuff for a month and a half and it does not get solved until the end of the year. When you have a hiring process that cannot get people paid until weeks after they start work, something is wrong here.

Coppa: To bring in budgets this size (he holds his hands apart) and not have it available to you on the ’Net. There are a lot of just structural things we need to fix right away.

Husted: By the way, the DOE is not the only place that it happens. It happens in Budget and Finance...

Carey: It’s a state system issue and there is no doubt about it. We went through a very large process on the interagency work group, where we tried to move the repair and maintenance from DAGS over to the schools, and I was stunned when I discovered they really did not have some of the systems down and we made an improvement. I hope you feel like you know where stuff is now, but there were no systems and processes in place that a private company would have to do maintenance and capital projects. You would not have a problem if you had a good asset management system that knows when the air conditioners are due to be replaced or repaired. There is just a whole list of stuff that gets in the way of good teaching and good school management. If you take those problems away, then you leave the educators to do their job.

Petranik: And you think that with an appointed board you would have the kind of people to solve those problems.

Carey: I think we would have a much better chance to get people with skills and abilities to be able to do that directly. No disrespect to the folks that are there, but if you look at their resumes, very few people have ever been involved with large systems.

Silberstein: I just want to clarify that when I mentioned the appointed board, I was talking about expertise. When I mentioned the board that is half elected, that enables public input.

As a principal, and I think I speak on behalf of many principals, we look forward to a performance contract. We do. Because that is how we in turn will improve, but a performance contract should be there only if the correct supports are given to each school. Then, go ahead and evaluate me because you gave me this support – that is what the school needs. Then if I cannot make it work by all means rate me low but if I can make it work, rate me high.

Petranik: Does the principals union help you perform or does it impede your possibilities as a principal?

Silberstein: I can refer to my union for things that occur with state level, district level, other principals, but it does not interfere with what I need to do and, if it does interfere, I would bring it up. “What is the reason for this?” Once they explain it, I see two perspectives and not just one.

Petranik: So you could be on a performance-based contract and be a member of your principals union?

Silberstein: I do not see why not.

Coppa: I know the construction industry does that. Many union members become superintendents and project managers and that works fine, but I think as she points out, you have got to have -- and this is where Central comes to a point – you have got to have a good support system, otherwise it makes her at fault for not performing.

Husted: Too often we use the term accountability to mean who can we blame, rather than say who has the responsibility and did they meet the responsibility. I see most people using the term accountability that way. They want to stick it to somebody. They want to know who should be held accountable and that is not what it should be.

Carey: I keep saying to the repair and maintenance guys, this is not about finding fault. It is about giving gold stars. We should change the culture to say we will give you gold stars. What if we do not meet our goals? Why did you set the goal that way? If you cannot make the goal, why did you set the goal that high?

Husted: We tell teachers if a parent comes in and asks, “Why did my kid get a D?” You better be very clear about why that youngster got a D. Do not say it is for me to know and you to go find out. They need to be able to explain that because nobody else in that classroom can explain why you gave the kid that grade and if you cannot explain it then maybe you need some help from somebody to help you understand why you should be grading in a certain way.

Silberstein: That is where the principal steps in, asking where is the evidence and works with the teacher.

Petranik: Should the principal’s powers include the power to hire and fire teachers?

Silberstein: I think so, and the power to retain good teachers. We trained them. We spent money on training them. Time is given to them and I have to give them up because they are a probie (on probation). They are excellent teachers and I want to retain them.

Coppa: That is a good point because in private industry, during boom times, that was always the concern: We invested a lot of money in training and then our competition took them away.

Husted: That was the No. 1 reason people came in with contract exceptions under SCBM (school/community-based management). Schools wanted to retain their probationary employees and I sat on that committee and we granted 99 percent of those exception requests, much to the distress of some of our tenured teachers, who wanted to get into those schools. But the schools wanted to retain the probationary teachers they trained. “We put all this money into them. We trained them and sent them to Mainland conferences.”

Silberstein: Just like Palolo. We were restructuring for two years. When we trained these teachers they were excellent and they helped us to pull out of restructuring. I had to give them up because of that probie status and start from scratch again.

Witt: How do we create different conditions for our really competent principals? Let’s assume that there are a lot of things that Ruth wants to do but is unable to because of encumbrances or hindrances. Candy said many of our principals are innovative, creative, thoughtful people who would like to lead but are held back by conditions in the system. So going back to the performance evaluation system that I recommended – this is now kind of a blue sky scenario – let us say that Palolo Elementary had a board of its own like a private school and I am the board chair and I want Ruth to succeed. What I would do is completely change the conditions. I would ask Ruth, “What are the five or six things you want to do to innovate, adapt, thrive, really make this the best school in the world right here in Palolo Valley? Give me the five or six things you think you could accomplish in the next five years and we are going to evaluate on that but before we evaluate you, we are also going to ask you what do you need to reasonably meet those goals.” I am talking about human resources, financial resources, professional development resources. “What kind of personal and professional support do you need, Ruth, as the principal of Palolo School?”

I am talking about how we do it in the private school world, but I think it is also possible in the public school world. We could liberate you and let you just take off like a rocket. Those are the conditions that Candy was talking about a minute ago and I think we have to change the conditions under which our public school principals are working because they cannot get to the things they want to do. So I would change the conversation.

Petranik: Let’s talk about teachers. How do we get the best? Candy, I am looking at you because you are seen as one of the best in the state. You are a symbol of what a public school teacher can do. So how do we get the best out of our teachers?

Suiso: Support them in the classroom. That is the key. The principal is the key. I have worked under four different principals and each of them have supported our program and helped create our success. You talk to media teachers across the state and across the country: the No. 1 reason why they cannot start a media program or why they fail is because they do not have a supportive administrator. Teachers should be supported in the classroom with resources. New teachers who come right out of college or from the Mainland should be supported with something like housing allowances. Most of these young kids come with just a backpack. They have very little and they do not get their first paycheck until two months later or so.

Husted: About two or three months later.

Carey: If I did that I’d go to jail.

Suiso: And they do not get paid much. If they were supported with housing, even food, and a support system within the community, that would really help. If they feel part of the community, they will stay. That will make a big difference.

Petranik: Are communities ready to provide that support?

Suiso: I believe the communities are. The communities do not get involved as much because they are just not either asked to or the principals and teachers are too overwhelmed to ask. They are just they are trying to do discipline. They are trying to learn the culture. The ones from the Mainland are just trying to figure out who and where they are. They are worrying about their lessons. They are worrying about how they are going to pay their rent. They are worrying about how are they going to put food in their stomach. I think the principal can support the teachers. Teachers who are supported, who feel welcome, who have the resources, will be the ones who tend to stay in the schools, in the community.

Petranik: Aside from financial and the moral support, what else prevents teachers from innovating and doing their best.

Suiso: Part of it is the system, Teachers just do not have time in their day; they work from 8 to 3. I truly believe that school days should go from 8 to 8. I’ll probably get shot down for saying this, but let’s open schools from 8 to 8 or let us run school from 12 to 6. Why do we have to start at 8.

The school day right now is from 8 to 3 and in that time all that teachers do teach. They do not get a break. The good teachers – we have good and we have bad – but the great teachers spend every day working with kids and there is no time for preparation. There is very little time to collaborate with each other. In an extended school day, there is more time for planning and preparation.

Witt: I am glad you said that Candy. I totally agree with everything you said and I think there is actually a generational difference. I will pick on Joan because she and I are from the same generation. We are from the same part of the world and we baby bloomers went to work and we went in our classrooms and we taught but we did not collaborate. We are not really wired that way but the young people coming into our schools today actually want to work in teams. We are not set up for that in our schools because the baby boomer teachers are used to going into their classrooms and shutting the door.

Husted: Very territorial. Yes.

Witt: But today’s young teachers want to work in teams. They want to be completely transparent. They want people to visit their classrooms. They want to be videotaped because they are Facebook-kind of people. They want to feel a high sense of self-efficacy. If they do not know that they are doing a good job and are not getting feedback from the principal everyday and from their team, they are going to leave. It is as simple as that. It is a whole different generation. They want different conditions and they need different types of rewards than what we had.

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