Brighter Future

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

(page 3 of 3)

Bruce Coppa
Photo: David Croxford

Silberstein: A lot of the instructional aspects that you just mentioned are in place now or starting especially at restructured schools. At Palolo, 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 am proud of the teachers at Palolo School. It is no longer “my classroom,” it is “our school.”

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). They turned us inside out. The attitude of every teacher had to change, the work ethic and atmosphere in the classroom had to change. Gone were kiddy posters. Now it is 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 HSA (Hawaii State Assessment annual tests). Now, we test our students every month. We look together at the results and ask, “Where are the weak areas?” or say, “These are the best practices.” A lot of collaboration.

Witt: Any culture, whether it is a hotel or a school or a magazine, does not like to change. People do not like to change. Somebody had to give Palolo’s teachers permission to behave differently and that usually comes from a transformative leader like Ruth or a team of leaders.

Petranik: Was there resistance?

Silberstein: Oh, there was. It was so painful. Tears, anger, the arrows at me. I had to keep focused no matter what and treat them with the respect that is due to every educator. It was very painful for everyone.

Petranik: Can changes in the system save money that can be spent in the classroom?

Carey: If you re-engineer the central office, there is a lot of money that could be put in the classroom. The Office of Human Resources uses a manual system. In manual systems you need lots of people, lots of files, lots of space. In a computerized system, you do not. But you have to invest in technology. If, over time, you re-engineer the business processes, I believe there is a whole lot of money to be saved.

Coppa: There are pools we fill up once a week because they leak; you patch, but in three months you are re-patching, so you should invest in fixing the pool.

Carey: The other piece, which is more controversial, is the efficient use of facilities based on the number of students requiring them. Some schools are underutilized and some do not have enough space, yet it is a difficult community process to rebalance those assets.

Coppa: Private developers would invest if they could use part of that facility when schools aren’t.

Carey: That capital investment may be a win-win for the community. Look at Jefferson School in Waikiki. Waikiki has some of the most valuable land in the world in utilization per square foot. There are schools in East Honolulu where there are not enough kids anymore. On the Leeward Coast, there are lots of kids and not enough classrooms. Laws have to be passed at the Legislature and the counties to allow this restructuring.

Husted: But we are seeing some response in two (Big Island) communities: Laupahoehoe was going to close but is turning into a charter. Keanae Elementary was closed but may become a charter because communities want small schools their kids can walk to.

Witt: How can you do more with less? We have less money on the private side now, too, and so we all have to be creative. Candy’s Searider Productions 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 the teacher is in the front of the room, and you get into the class-size argument. I bet Candy does not even think about class size. She will take as many kids as she can into her lab because they work in teams and I guarantee you they do not go home at 3 o’clock. They stay until 10.

Suiso: Yes.

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