Brighter Future

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

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Petranik: How should we evaluate principals?

Coppa: Student performance. They should get rewarded for good outcomes.

Petranik: And fired if they don’t deliver?

Coppa: It’s like our business; we won’t just fire someone. We will 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 account for certain schools having more poverty-income or special-needs students?

David Carey
Photo: David Croxford

Coppa: That is part of the student-weighted formula, considering whether English is a second language. At Princess Kaiulani Elementary School in Kalihi, they will tell you it is very tough. 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. Every school cannot be the same.

Carey: Pay for performance only works well when both sides understand the measurements and they are fair. The longitudinal measurement of academic performance has not yet come to pass in public schools. That’s longitudinal by student, regardless of where they go, regardless of what grade they are in.

Witt: If we evaluate principals like Ruth, we have to ensure they have time to coach their teachers, given all their administrative duties. I have visited many public schools. There is simply not enough support staff. The principal knows best what the school needs to do over the next three to five years, so the principal should sit down with somebody, maybe the Board of Education, and develop five to 10 institutional goals. Then she should be evaluated each year on her progress or every five years, which would encourage principals to see a cycle of improvement as that long.

Husted: Model O was a performance-based salary schedule that we negotiated with the state in 1997, then could not get them to implement it. Model O included the School Bonus System, the idea that a school is a team. It is not just principal and teachers, but custodians, cafeteria workers, school secretary and clerks who all make up a team that moves a school along. Model O said, “If you meet your benchmarks, then everybody in the school got a bonus.”

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

Carey: There needs to be a sea change attitudinally in state government. 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. In a lot of state agencies, if you make that 10th mistake, then, “Oh my God! Someone has made a mistake. We need to set up a process so that mistake will never get made again.” If you roll that over time, people figure out, “I am not going to do anything that is going to cause the system to go after me.” Soon no one is willing to take a risk.

Witt: We need risk-taking, creative principals. The evaluation should allow two or three goals that are fail-able. We do not have research and development in education. So the R&D really relies upon the principal who experiments, pilots new programs, fails now and then, but makes the effort. We do not have that kind of mind set in our state and therefore Ruth might try some things but not tell anybody.

Ruth Silberstein
Photo: David Croxford

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).

Suiso: There a lot of exciting, innovative principals in the DOE. They just do not have the time to do the innovative stuff.

Carey: The business processes at the central office are Byzantine. The largest employer in the state has a manual personnel system. It has a financial traffic system but cannot track 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. There is just a whole list of stuff that gets in the way of good teaching and good school management.

Silberstein: As a principal, and I think I speak on behalf of many principals, we look forward to a performance contract, but only if the correct supports are given to each school.

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. But I have to give them up because they are on probation. At 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.

Candy Suiso
Photo: David Croxford

Petranik: How do we get the best from our teachers?

Suiso: Support them in the classroom. 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: The No. 1 reason they cannot start a media program or they fail is because they do not have a supportive administrator. Teachers should be supported in the classroom with resources. New teachers who come out of college or the Mainland should be supported with housing allowances. They have very little and do not get their first paycheck until two 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 them to stay. Communities are ready to support them, but do not get involved because the principals and teachers are too overwhelmed to ask.

Petranik: What else prevents teachers from doing their best?

Suiso: Teachers do not have enough time in their day; they work from 8 to 3. School days should go from 8 to 8. Now, all teachers do is teach. They do not get a break. The good teachers – we have good and bad – spend every day working with kids and there is no time for preparation or collaboration with each other. In an extended school day, there is more time for planning and preparation.

Witt: Baby boomer teachers like Joan and I shut the door and taught in our classrooms, but did not collaborate. But the young people coming into our schools today want to work in teams.

Carey: Punahou has redefined the educational delivery for younger kids. In the middle school, they have pods of 92 kids with all subjects and all four teachers in the pods cooperating.

Coppa: Candy and I saw a school with pods in Los Angeles.

Suiso: They all coordinate. They talk to each other and so the kids spend a whole semester working on an intense project. The English and Social Studies teachers are in the same class and share the same students, so when the bell rings they do not move.

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

Coppa: If you were not performing, do you know who called the parent?

Suiso: The student. You got fired from your group.

Witt: If we want students to be project-based and collaborative, adults in the schools have to model that behavior. (We need to show) teachers working in teams; collaborating; taking risks; evaluating each other; pushing each other.

Suiso: Make sure in these settings, the teachers have needed resources and are trained so that they can train their students how to work in groups. We saw students saying, “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 meeting their deadline.

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