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Brighter Future - Extended Version

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

(page 6 of 6)

Petranik: How long does that arbitration process take?

Husted: Well, the arbitration process is 60 days. The biggest difficulty is that people have not documented cases. They just don’t document them. I had a teacher fired because she walked around campus thinking of nothing and I got her principal in the hearing and I asked, “How do you know she was thinking of nothing?” “Well, she’s just got this blank look on her face,” and I said, “You can’t fire someone for that.”

Petranik: Does that speak to the principal being overworked.

Husted: Or having too big a span of supervision. Many of them are not trained to terminate.

Witt: In the public schools, Ruth cannot come home from work at 7 p.m. and call her attorney and get advice. You do not have a backup system like that. On the private side, we have that. I was a private school principal and I fired a few teachers when the counseling-out process did not work. But what I had that you do not have, an attorney standing right behind me, 24 hours a day.

Public school principals need that type of advocacy, they need legal aid, without it you you may not have the backup system you need. So part of your answer is principals need a resource that is not there now. They need legal assistance. I am not talking about the Attorney General’s office, as much as I respect that office. I’m talking about the ability of a principal to engage legal counsel.

Carey: We only go to the lawyers if things really break down, but most of our HR people understand a process. (An employee’s) first meeting with a manager should be documented.

Witt: Agreed, it may be someone other than an attorney.

Husted: There used to be within the Department of Education, under Don Nugent and when Charlie Toguchi was superintendent, they had staff members who could tell a principal what needed to be done. They’ve lost all of that.

Silberstein: We cannot call anyone at all. We are on our own.

Husted: I have principals calling me.

Coppa: A $2 billion business has got to have a solid human resource department with a backup system that has an access to attorneys for all legal ramifications.

Husted: The late John Marabella from Dillingham Corp. once said that one of the advantages of having a union is you have a grievance procedure, which has certain limitations: you do not pay damages. Without the grievance procedure you end up in court. You get dragged through all of this. You can end up being having punitive damages and all of that. Grievance procedures are much faster than being dragged into court.

Carey: But if you do your PDQs right in the first place, if the performance is well documented and counseling is well documented, then the first time an employee who wants a fight and goes to a lawyer, the lawyer looks at the paperwork and says, “Sorry, I can’t help you.”

Witt: The problem with going to the Attorney General’s office is that you will hear back from them in six month because they’re so busy.

Carey: And they don’t have labor experience.

Petranik: Let’s move on to charter schools.

Witt: I think we need to think differently about the charters. Just imagine that in the year 2030, 20 years from now, all public schools in Hawaii are charter schools. It is not outrageous to think that because charter schools actually embody a lot of the values that we want our public schools to have. But if you looked at the way charter schools are being treated today, the traditional mindset about charter education is it is actually kind of a liability to our public education system. It takes kids out of the traditional schools. It takes money away from the traditional schools. The charter school guys are kind of shrill when they go to the Legislature. Why do we not start thinking about charter schools less as a liability and more as an asset in that they are the research and development arm of the DOE and prefiguring what schools might begin to look like in the future. I think that would change the entire conversation about charter education.

Husted: One of the things Mitch D'Olier and I have been talking about is we think there ought to be a distinction between conversion charters and startup charters. For example, we think that a conversion charter ought to be allowed to keep their building because they are really demonstration schools.

Witt: Yeah, that was what I am talking about.

Husted: And we need to find a different way or formula for startups. If you could have been in the meeting we had with the charter schools – I walked out and I said, “No wonder nobody is getting anywhere.” Nobody can even agree on how much they get.

Petranik: And they had people from the DOE in that meeting?

Husted: Jim Breese (DOE’s chief financial officer) was there, and Norman Sakamoto (chairman of the state Senate Committee on Education), who called the meeting, and Mitch was there and the rest were charter school people, but even the charter schools could not agree.

Coppa: As a former member of University Lab School board, I will tell you it is, there is more fighting between the charters themselves. But I think you are right: We have to embrace charters. They are not a liability.

Petranik: Should we lift the cap? There is a cap of 23 on startup charter schools.

Witt: There are five or six conversions, plus 23 start-ups.

Silberstein: I like that conversion idea because then you have that specialty aspect for that school and that will prove that charter schools are excellent.

Carey: I am wondering if charter schools are not a frustrated solution for the fact that the core system doesn’t do what it is supposed to do.

Husted: I think that’s true.

Carey: There are going to be cases and issues where education needs to be handled differently than the mainstream. But I would much rather see the core schools evolve to a process where people are happy with them, so charters could do the special stuff that is not really designed to be done by the mainstream, as opposed to being a mainstream solution.

Coppa: Here’s another example, the 3Rs program, which is Repair, Remodel, and Restore. Charter schools have applied for this program, but many of the facilities that they are in are not a DOE asset or not a county or a state asset, so we cannot help them to improve their classroom even with paint.

Husted: We’ve got to rethink charters. They were put in place so quickly (with the attitude) “Let’s punish the DOE.” The Hawaiian community was angry and frustrated over the treatment of Hawaiian immersion programs. The charters were not funded separately; you had to drain the money out of the regular program. We really need to sit down and ask, “What do we want the charters to do?” just as we ask, “What do we want our general public schools to do?”

Petranik: You were calling them the laboratories.

Husted: We saw them as laboratories.

Witt: That is what they should be under current conditions.

Coppa: UH Lab School is a research school.

Witt: We have one lab school, but most of them are fighting for survival. And yet, they have high levels of community engagement in communities that have not been well supported by traditional schools, public or private. They have high levels of ethnic populations who are engaged in learning, who were not engaged before. They have community ownership, which is a great thing. That is why I said that it embodies some of the values that we all want. Because they are so severely challenged financially, they are not able to share what they are learning. They are not effective laboratories because every day they are just trying to get through the day. It is a survival equation. If you look at research and development from a business point of view, you would say, “We are going to put this much money into our current business but we are going to put a little extra over here for research and development.” That means the charter schools should get all the money they need to do some research and development, to innovate, to take some risks, but also to share it widely with their colleagues in the public schools, and we simply do not have conditions where they can do any sharing.

Coppa: I think the reason for that failure is because we rushed. We did not put a business plan together to address the issues you are talking about.

Witt: I would insist that every charter school be a demonstration school and a lab school that has a high obligation to share with professional colleagues in public schools, private schools, Catholic schools, it doesn’t matter. Just share.

Husted: HSTA has had a love-hate relationship with charters, and some of it stems from the fact that our charter-school teachers did not strike when teachers struck in 2001. So you get beaten over this side of the head: “They are living off this hourly schedule but they didn’t have to strike to earn it,” and I said that they all had no strike clauses because we extended the master agreement to cover all charters, and it had a no-strike clause in it, so they could not strike. “Well, that is beside the point.”

Then you have a lot of people who like charters. We have charter school teachers who sit on (HSTA’s) board of directors, etc, etc. The thing that really bothers teachers in the general public school population is when they get compared to charters: “See how much better the charters are doing than you are doing,” and the charter school teacher has 11 kids in her class while the general school teacher has 32. But they have always proved what we have always said and Bob just said: small schools, involved parents and communities and small class sizes. You need those things for any school to be successful and the charters that are successful, have those. They need to be better monitored because we know money is going in various and sundry places, where it probably shouldn’t be going in some of our charters.

Petranik: But most of them are open on Furlough Fridays. And they are doing it with less money.

Husted: That is because the collective bargaining agreement did not cover them and specifically excluded charters. A few of the charters have gone to furloughs over the money issue, but they are robbing Peter to pay Paul. I have always maintained that you ought to have a Charter School Intermediate School District. In other words, a school district within a school district, I have always maintained that for special education, too. As number of states do Special Education Intermediate School Districts. The funding comes in through that school district. It doesn’t go through the DOE and you have an advisory board that has a say about where the money can go and not go to.

Coppa: Do charter schools fall under the DOE or the Board?

Witt: It is real murky. One of the things we did in our rush to launch the charters 10 years ago, 11 years ago, we failed to put an accountability system in place and so we have to go back to the drawing board and say to the charter schools, we are going to give you more but we are going to expect more from you, too. We are going to give you the resources to be a research and development arm but we are going to hold you highly accountable. Right now, we cannot even close a failing charter schools. We tried with a failing school, Waters of Life. And the Attorney General’s office said there simply are not any rules in place that allow you to do that and so that is why it failed, and until we start holding them accountable they are not going to have the credibility that I hope they will have 10 years from now.

Petranik: I did promise everybody a chance to speak on things dear to their heart. If we could do one thing that would help our children’s education, what would that one thing be?

Silberstein: I think it is too bad that we didn’t make Race to the Top, although we knew somewhat we would not make it because of Furlough Fridays being against us. We can still move ahead, but if we had Race to the Top help, the transformation of all our public schools would have taken effect sooner. It is already starting but it would give the final push to move the school faster and the whole system would undergo restructuring from state to district. What that proposal contains is all the effective best practices, heavy data, longitudinal data per student, everything that we need to be effective schools today for the 21st century, to challenged on the global level, and this is where we are all trying to move to – a global level. For example in Palolo, teachers as well as principals and students interact with schools in England and the UK. But we need that funding, we need the structures of governance and everything that we spoke about today to be restructured.

Carey: I think there is a series of things that have to happen. There has to be real time financial reporting to the school so that you can make the different economic decisions in a more rational way. I think there has to be a re-engineering of the central office to deliver more resources to the field in a way that enables the principals and the teachers to do what they are good at. It is about changing the human resource practices so it can be real time and accurate and fast so that when we need to hire a teacher or secretary or janitor it can happen right away. And then the fiscal management that goes along with that in terms of deploying assets in the places where they are needed, which will again make the instructional part work. To use hotel language, it is really about re-engineering the back of the house to enable to all the front of the house to do what it is good at. And I believe there are millions and millions of dollars in that but it is going to take investment to get there.

Husted: I would like us to change our vocabulary. Let us stop talking about failing public schools. I am a schoolteacher. Ruth and Candy are schoolteachers. You walk into a class of kids and you say, “Hi, I understand you are all failing” or “You are failures.” We end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy when we keep pounding that into our community that our public schools fail. Eighty-five percent of our community went to public schools. They are doctors and they are lawyers and they are architects and they are engineers and they are store clerks and they are writers, and this state has not done badly. The state has not fallen off the Earth because the majority of its citizens were public-school educated. So we have got to change it.

Secondly, we have got to stop comparing public and private schools. They are different. Bob’s schools can teach us methodology and new ways of doing things, but it drove me crazy when people say, “We do not know why you are not doing as well as Punahou.” And the third thing is let’s stop comparing Hawaii’s Public School District with the other state school systems. They are different. We are the 7th largest school system in the United States and we got to be compared with large school systems and how well they do – not whether or not the governor of Michigan appoints the superintendent of public education for the state of Michigan. That superintendent doesn’t not run a single school system.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people, including public school teachers and school administrators, who send their kids to private schools not for religious reasons. They are not going to parochial schools because they are Catholic but because the community views these parents as failing their kids if they do not send them to private schools. We’ve gotten into that mentality and I think people working at the top have to get out of that. Yes, our schools need work. They need improvement, but schools do not fail, people fail, and so when you say a public school is a failure, then you are saying the people within that school are failures, and you can’t attract teachers, you can’t keep teachers, you can’t keep administrators, you can’t keep good employees if you keep telling them they are working in a failing system and they are busting their butts trying to do the very best they can. So we’ve got to change the tone of the conversation to how can we make it better rather than how can we keep it from failing.

Witt: One thing that we have not talked about today that might be worth spending a minute on is the voice of our students. I do not think we listened enough in a formal way to what our students know about schooling and learning, and about their futures, hopes and dreams. I watched Candy’s students on public TV the other day and I was listening to the young lady present…

Suiso: Heidi.

Witt: Heidi. We have students who are much more articulate, much wiser, and much more forward looking, much more intrinsically motivated than we might imagine, and my recommendation would be that if we really want to create a sense of ongoing urgency in improving our schools, and I would say all schools in Hawaii, I think we need a formal mechanism for asking students of all ages once a year in some type of focus group setting: “What are we doing well that is working for you? What are we not doing well that we could improve upon?” And I think teachers and principals really need to listen to that student voice. It is an authentic, genuine voice, and we owe it to our students to more formally learn from them what they need and I just do not think we have the time to do that. But if I had one wish today, I would wish that all school principals in Hawaii would set aside some time each year to have those kinds of real, deep, thoughtful, reflective conversations with their students.

Coppa: I have worked with a lot of schools and students and teachers and I would say that the one thing that our public schools lack is public relations. There are a lot of good things going on our schools that never ever get publicized – senior projects, kids in the construction industry. There is a lot of good stuff that goes on. We need to tell those stories. We need to talk about Ruth and what she has done for her school. Certainly that is a story that is worth telling. I had to travel to Indiana and to Los Angeles to find out that they are doing the same damn thing up there that we are doing down at Campbell High School or we’re doing in Palolo. What the hell is up with that? Because we do not really share it, we do not share it with the public; we do not talk about our good stories. We talk about all bad, we talk about how bad unions are, how bad this is at, I think there are lot of good stories that need to come to the surface and be brought up.

Petranik: Candy, you had the first word and you get the last.

Suiso: Wow! I have to agree that there are a lot of good stories to tell about the State of Hawaii. Those of us who believe in this generation who are coming up, who are going to be the future leaders of the State of Hawaii, know that future is in good hands. You have to truly believe that. The youth of today are so much more ahead than I ever was when I was 30 because of the Internet, because of Twitter, because of Facebook, they know so much more, they move so much faster, and they are so much more open to learning. If we as educators do not keep up with them, we are going to continue to fall behind. That is why the one thing that I would really like to explore is the extended school day. There is just not enough time in a school day to get everything done and if you keep the schools open from 8 to 8, and if you make learning fun, and you need to really make it relevant, they will stay, and they will learn.

Petranik: Thank you so much.

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