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Brighter Future - Extended Version

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

(page 5 of 6)

Petranik: Is that restructuring more possible under an appointed board?

Carey: That is a larger issue that requires legislation to get some public schools to be run by counties, some of them run by state, and there are a whole lot of rules about that. It is a re-engineering of the ownership of the assets, which is legislative and probably a legislative solution. That is a big job but there is money. The business guys think about that all the time. Look at Jefferson School in Waikiki. Waikiki has some of the most valuable land in the world in its utilization per square foot. A businessperson looks at that and says a school there is absolutely nuts. Is it a wonderful school? Sure! But there are schools in East Honolulu where the population have migrated out and there are not enough kids anymore. On the Leeward Coast, there are lots of kids and they do not have enough classrooms. It takes money to get money in the re-engineering process.

It has to start at the Legislature. I think laws have to be passed at the Legislature and the counties. Both have to agree, because there are some county laws and there are county regulations and so on.

Husted: But we are seeing some response in two communities (on the Big Island): Lapahoehoe, which was going to close but is going to turn into a charter and so they will not be closed, and you are looking at Keanae. Keanae got closed and now they are looking at how they can reconstitute Keanae Elementary and turn it into a charter because communities want community schools, they like small schools and they like ones where their kids can walk to.

Witt: There is a direct relationship between this topic and charters, because we know of charter schools that are operating on $5,000 or $6,000 per pupil who have highly effective instructional programs but let us talk about that in a minute. The traditional content coverage, stand-and-deliver teaching approach that we are all used to, does not have to remain. There are much more efficient 21st century ways to deliver instruction to students in our schools, whether public or private or parochial. We are all facing that same conundrum right now. How can you do more with less? We have less money on the private side now, so I think if the name of the game is adapting to conditions where there are fewer resources and to do that we have to be creative. If you look at Searider Productions, I do not know exactly how Candy does it, but it is project-based. You can get a lot done with teams of students in project-based learning. You need fewer teachers because they are on the side coaching, than if you have a traditional content delivery system where the teacher is in the front of the room and you get into the whole class-size argument. I bet Candy does not even think about class size. She will take as many kids as she can into her laboratory because you have got young people working together in teams and I guarantee you they do not go home at 3 o’clock. They stay until 10 o’clock.

Suiso: They stay until 10.

Witt: That can happen in every school, so it is not a question of just an instructional day from 9 to 3, but how do you motivate these young people to keep learning before school, after school, through the night? They will do it if we give them the right motivation and incentive. So we could actually do more with young people with fewer teacher resources if we reallocate the teacher resources to a more project-based, team-based approach.

Coppa: In Los Angeles, there was one high school with strong team spirit. The school was gang-related – heavy gang-related – but these kids took that model like team builders and they took it back into their gang and created a whole cooperation of not having violence.

Witt: I agree with that and add one more thing: Why are we not asking our high school students to be teachers of younger children on a much more formal basis? At Waianae that works wonderfully. Part of growing up is that you learn to take care of your community and if we can teach them more efficiently, Candy, in team-based and project-based environments with fewer teachers, why do we not ask the high school kids to dedicate one day a week to go into the elementary schools? We can get a lot more instructional impact than we are getting today.

 

Suiso: Agreed.

Husted: One of the critical needs within the Department of Education is we need to come to an agreement about what the figures we use mean. I watch per pupil expenditure and people throw numbers around and my first question is what made up that per pupil figure? The DOE does it a certain way because it is advantageous to them and people who are not supporting the DOE will do it a different way because it makes their point the DOE is overfunded. I met with a group of charter people and, I’ll tell you, I do not think anybody in that room agreed on any figure.

Somebody called me the other day after an article came out and said, “Is it true the DOE has 80,000 employees?” I said where did that come from? “Well, I saw it in a news article,” and then somebody else called me and said, “Is it true? It is 60,000?” We cannot even agree on how many employees the Department of Education has. What constitutes the casual employees? Somebody could make themselves a real Nobel Prize winner if they could come up with a bunch of numbers that people could agree on or at least understand how you got those numbers.

Carey: That comes to my point of having a real-time financial system, whether it is generally accepted accounting principles or whatever the equivalent in the public sector ought to be, that would take away a lot of doubt. You should know what the expenditures are right off the bat and you should also know how much the Central Office is costing you or whether you agree that services you are getting from the Central Office is right or how much your repair and maintenance is compared to the elementary school down the way and, “Hey, why are their costs are so much lower than mine? What are you doing that makes it easier for you or more expensive for me?”

Husted: One of the funniest budget stories is when three or four years ago, we were looking at a budget proposal problem at Budget and Finance, and we said, “How come these people are only costing this much?” The student enrollment had grown so they needed to add teachers and they said, “Oh, no, no, no. We did not put in teachers; we put in educational aides because they are cheaper.” We went, “You can’t do that.” You got somebody sitting in the backroom with an adding machine and saying, “You know if we replace all these teachers with EAs, it will just be a whole lot cheaper.”

Petranik: Ruth, what do you do when teachers burn out or are not performing for whatever reason?

Silberstein: I think between the teacher and I, we might look at a different assignment to help relieve the teacher. “Why don’t you go into the library for one semester while the librarian is out, and we will get a sub here?” We try to work it out because principals are human, too and we know what it is like to be burned out. So when our teachers are burned out, it is like a family, you have to tend to their needs or they cannot perform. Kids will not learn. The bottom line is the kids. So if the teacher is burned out, you have got to help the teacher because the kids are going to suffer.

Petranik: I hear parents say, “Last year, we had a great teacher but this year, my child is not learning anything.”

Silberstein: I always look at the positives of the teacher. I look at their talents, and I let them know, “This is your strong point, we really need you here,” and where they are placed is because of their great abilities and so they do well, and they feel good because the parents see that they do well. If a parent disagrees, I will say. “You need to give your child time, work with the teacher, and I will work with the teacher,” and before we know it, it kind of ends out.

Coppa: Same in business.

Witt: Teachers who are not feeling competent or effective are going to burn out. I think principals can put older teachers into teams with younger teachers as an invigorating exercise. Giving older teachers a variety of job duties or mentoring younger teachers is also invigorating. I was a school principal, too, and sometimes we counsel people out.

Husted: I could tell you that union reps counsel people out too. Though I have left HSTA, I just worked with one of my field reps to counsel a teacher out who was highly resistant and she has no business teaching. Four or five times, they (the DOE) tried to terminate her, but they forgot to do it the right way. So we tell our teachers who are in trouble, we are going to win this but when we win it they will learn how to do it right. So you counsel them out, you suggest that teaching is not a place for them or you suggest they should retire out. Principals have a lot of flexibility in moving teachers around within their school because HSTA differs from the United Public Workers, for example, because we are craft union. We are not an industrial model. We are interested in the craft of teaching, what it takes to learn how to teach, what it takes to keep you in teaching and how you leave the craft of teaching. So our contract does not say that you must assign teachers by seniority.

The only time seniority comes to play within the collective bargaining agreement is when you are reducing staff at a school, but the principal can take a more senior or less senior teacher, and move her here or move her there. They can select teachers who come on the transfer rolls. You select them as senior teachers or you can pick a probationary floor teacher rather than a 25-year veteran. The only time seniority really has a great deal of impact is when you are moving them out of the school altogether and/or the state law says that you lay off teachers by seniority.

Petranik: Joan, I have a friend who is a principal and she had said that she has trouble counseling out teachers because the process is so involved. She says she does not have the time to follow that long process.

Husted: I think the issue is time.

Suiso: I wish that principals had more time to support teachers because it is so tough being a teacher especially today. Teachers are teaching to an entirely different generation of learners than our generation. (When we were students), I would sit in a classroom, I would listen to the teacher, I would listen, I would study in a library, I would take notes, I would take a test. The teacher was in charge. Now, kids can multitask – they are studying, they are listening to their iPods, they are texting on the telephone, they are talking to each other, they are doing five different things. A lot of times, I would say: “Did you hear what I said” and they have heard what I said. They will repeat everything that I said because they can multitask. As a teacher, if you do not know your content, if you are not charismatic, and if you are not dancing on that table, you lose the kid, and it is difficult to be a teacher. Principals need more time to be in the classroom to support teachers because every teacher is hired because that principal saw something good and saw potential.

Coppa: If I did not have a human resource department in our business, I could not function. It would be a full-time job dealing just with those (HR) issues. You cannot just fire employees – you have attorneys advising, and other people advising, saying that if you want this person out, these are the steps you have got to take. I look at that and say, “You know what? You take care of this human resource.” Principals do not have those resources.

Petranik: Candy, are you saying that every teacher can be saved?

Suiso: Absolutely. When they were hired, the principal saw something good in them or they would not have hired them because you have that choice, right?

Silberstein: We give all the support to the teacher. If you need medical support. We need another aide; can we do that? You need to change jobs just so you can recoup your physical and mental well-being, and then after all the support is given and still nothing is working, then I will counsel out. I have counseled some teachers out. But at that point, they have come to the realization that, “Yeah, this is too much for me,” and that is taken gracefully. It is not a shove. You do not shove them out.

Suiso: Kids today, whether they are elementary or high school, they are not as respectful as when I went to school. They challenge you a lot more. They are very verbal. They are much more global.

Husted: I am going to take a little harder view on it. I think there are some teachers who have no business teaching. There are teachers who cannot be saved in the process. It is interesting that one of the tools the Department has that is rarely used is you can extend a teacher’s probationary period up to five years. It drives me crazy when people do not know what they can do. I had a teacher who was a P-10 (probationary 10), and she was in a location and they moved her from elementary school to elementary school to elementary school and the reason they moved her was she was 58 years old and had moved herself to Hawaii after her husband died and they felt sorry for her and, if you fire her, what is she going to do for a living, right? And she finally got to the last principal and the last principal said she doesn’t understand teaching. She doesn’t understand the art and science of teaching, so they terminated her.

HSTA only took about 50 percent of its terminations to arbitration. If the DOE had a very solid case we did not waste members’ money taking it to arbitration because then we were not worried about failure to represent.

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