Brighter Future – Extended Version
Participants, in the order they begin speaking:
Steve Petranik: Moderator and editor of Hawaii Business.
Candy Suiso: Teacher at Waianae High School and program director of Searider Productions.
Bruce Coppa: COO of Communications Pacific and chairman of the education committee for the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.
Ruth Silberstein: Principal of Palolo Elementary School and Hawaii’s 2008 National Distinguished Principal.
David Carey: President and CEO of Outrigger Enterprises Group and a member of the executive committee of the Hawaii Business Roundtable.
Joan Husted: Retired teacher and retired executive director of Hawaii State Teachers Association.
Robert Witt: Executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and a collaborator with public education in Hawaii.
This full transcript of the discussion was edited to add clarity and to delete duplication.
Petranik: Thank you for coming. I’d like to start with a topic being discussed by the Legislature now: Who should be the ultimate authority for our public schools? One proposal would reflect what the three former, living Hawaii governors have advocated, a school board appointed by the governor to replace the elected school board. Gov. Lingle has proposed something similar: no school board, with the governor directly appointing the schools superintendent. Candy?
Suiso: I would like to explore the possibility of an appointed superintendent and ultimately an appointed school board. It would give the schools more accountability. Look at who is accountable now: We have the Board of Education, we have our legislators, we have the Department of Education and our union. If we had an appointed superintendent and appointed board, we would know exactly who to point to.
Coppa: Appointed board. That is my feeling, though we haven’t done a poll of the Chamber’s members. In my years of dealing with the Department of Education through the board, whether it was about the Student Weighted Formula or just having to present anything there, I always found that the members of the elected board spend too much time worrying about the next election. An appointed board gives us more of an opportunity to better focus on education, and it’s time for a change.
Petranik: Are the appointed UH regents a good model?
Coppa: I think that is a good model to start with and we can tweak it as we go. I do not think we should spend a lot of time getting down to the nitty-gritty. Let’s move on it and adjust it as we go. It’s time; it’s been a long time.
Silberstein: An appointed board is needed to move Hawaii forward on education, but there are two ways of looking at it. It could be half appointed, half elected, or it could be totally appointed, but in the process of appointing a board, there should be another subgroup that would nominate from the field of education, so that the board can really be in consultation with the governor and the superintendent.
Petranik: Should some constituencies be guaranteed, like a spot for the Neighbor Islands or someone who represents the teachers?
Silberstein: Yes, the board should have a teacher representative, a principal representative, a student representative, and if you want to go elected then the community and business can be in the elected side, but the appointed side should be heavy with educators. I believe that with appointed members, you cannot have puppets, because that would ruin the movement. Again, it’s going to create power struggles. So, we really need to zero in on individuals who will move and who are in the trenches.
Carey: There are lots of academic folks here, so let me share a business perspective: The Department of Education today is essentially a $2 billion (a year) organization, and a lot of what it does is run the business of the schools, which means keeping up physical plants and the like. The elected process tends to cause business people not to participate. So I am an advocate for an appointed school board because there are a range of folks with lots of executive talent and lots of community awareness who would accept an appointment if asked by the governor or senior leadership, but who would not run for office because of all the attendant issues that go with that. So I am an advocate for an appointed board. I also could see some appointed and some elected, but that is a complex process.
Probably the reality of the community is that a pure appointed board would be a harder sell because of all the constituencies, but some sort of intervening process makes sense and some of the concerns just described could be answered. Having watched the Hawaii Tourism Authority over the last several years, where there are a lot of prescribed constituencies, it works really well when you start and it becomes very hard to find candidates over time that specifically fill constituencies that were designed in the beginning. So I would be a little more flexible about defining constituencies and leave them as guidelines as opposed to prescriptions so that you could get the better people, even if there was not a clean fit at the time those appointments were made or when vacancies occurred.
Petranik: Is it the official position of the Business Roundtable to have an appointed board?
Carey: The Business Roundtable has been doing that and I think just about to come out is a resident survey that demonstrates that a fairly heavy majority of residents of Hawaii favor an appointed board.
Husted: I have an entirely different point of view. I have always favored an elected school board primarily because you do not take the vote away from the people. The most efficient form of government obviously is a dictatorship, but you can’t take the vote away, so the question becomes how can we deal with some of the issues that we are confronting.
I floated a proposal out at the Amioka Lecture a few weeks ago, though it would take legislation and probably a constitutional amendment: Suspend the elected board of education for six years, three biennials, and let the governor appoint an education czar and give that education czar six years to fix whatever the perceived problems are within the Department of Education. One of the problems with talking about the board is you are talking about form, you are not talking about what you want your school district to do, and form should not precede function. We don’t even agree in this state what our school system ought to be, whether it should it be all college bound, should it have some vocational, etc. Then after six years, reapportion the board to a 25-member board of education, which could be one per senatorial district, so everybody would know just as they do now who they are voting for their Senate. If we say 25 members is too large, we say the state Senate is too large, too. Then move forward from that particular point. There is a very good article in Phi Delta Kappa’s journal this month (http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/index.htm) on appointed vs. elected school boards and it pretty much says what the state of Maryland found out is that it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference because you’ve got to talk about the function of the system, not just the governance of the system and that’s lacking in the debate. We talk about the board but we hear businesses saying our kids are not coming prepared, we hear unions saying they can’t do math, we have high school teachers saying, “Wow, they are coming up and can’t read!” and we are focusing our whole attention on whether it should be an elected or appointed school board.
If we went to an appointed board, I disagree with Ruth. I think it’s the people’s board, not an educator’s board. It raises some really serious conflicts of interest because under the state law, the Board of Education is the employer, so it would be a little difficult for teachers to sit on the Board of Education that negotiates for them or school administrators. I think it ought to be a citizen’s board because the citizens ought to be telling us what it is they
Witt: Well, I am intrigued by Joan’s proposal. Let me back up and say that I am for an appointed board. I believe that our public schools are in crisis. The stakes are very high for the state of Hawaii and for a whole generation of children with their lives ahead of them. If we do the right thing, we can invite them into a promising future, but, right now, my hypothesis would be that the current elected board is not getting the job done. In the private schools, you would simply say that the governance is not effective. Assuming that the schools are in crisis, I do not know if I am ready to propose an appointed board or elected board forever, but I would agree with Joan’s proposal that that we need some sort of crisis management solution for a short period of time. Six years sound fairly good.
I think the appointed board will allow us to choose highly competent proven leaders who have a good grip on public policy. We need a turnaround board who can get our schools headed in a different direction. We know that public education in Hawaii can work because we have good examples like Searider Productions, but we need to have that everywhere. So in summary, I think the stakes are too high to continue as we are. I think we need to have an appointed board maybe for a period of time and maybe to continue if the results are good. I think that a selection panel is a good idea because we need to vet a lot of good candidates to come up with people who really know how to lead and who can generate new ideas. I like the notion of representation if we could be sure that the people selected to represent various constituencies or geographical areas are highly competent, effective, proven leaders. I think those leaders should be chosen from among groups that have dealt with crisis, such as economic crisis.
Petranik: But if you have a board appointed by a committee of experts wouldn’t you recreate the same problem of divided accountability, with this appointed board having part of the authority and the governor having part of the authority. Would it make more sense to give all the control to the governor, who is elected by a statewide vote, and the governor directly appoints the school board?
Witt: I do not think that in this state we would ever agree to allowing the governor to appoint the board directly. I think it removes the power from the people just a little bit too far. The Board of Regents model seems to be working and I would agree with Bruce that something like that is worth a try.
Let me go back to Joan’s point. Joan and I are from the Midwest where school districts are typically small and we are used to elected school boards where the stakes were never as high as they are here. We are used to a school district with maybe two or three high schools, half a dozen middle schools, and 15 elementary schools. We are talking about 15,000 kids and a budget of about $30 million or $40 million. David pointed out that this is a $2 billion industry with 250 schools. Any business organization of that size needs good management, good leadership and good governance. We should try a different model and I think the people in Hawaii understand that this is an urgent situation that needs an unusual solution. I don’t think they are going to worry about giving away too much at this point. There is too much being lost everyday.
Husted: One of the things I added into my proposal, which caused Rep. Roy Takumi (chair of the state House Education Committee) to choke, was we would also pass the constitutional amendment that said that state Legislature could not do anything other than lump sum funding for the Department of Education.
Witt: I’m all for that.
Husted: We just had a great example of it. We have a bill moving legislatively that restructures the Department of Education, dictates that two additional deputy superintendents have to be employed and that makes absolutely no sense. That line of accountability with the governor and an appointed board seems to trip over 76 people in the state Capitol who all have great ideas on how they want the school system to run.
The Legislature mandated a skin-care program that required that all schools make sure that kids did not get skin cancer and required the schools to write a report once a year on what they are doing to achieve this. To me that is the height of micromanaging and unless you can get those legislators out of the game, nobody is going to succeed. I do not care if it is an elected school board, an appointed school board, or whoever it is, as long as people can intervene in the system from outside the system, it is going to be very difficult to solve anything.
Silberstein: And that takes away from instruction. We are being mandated in so many things that have nothing to do with the education of children and those plates need to be cleaned off. You want to talk about skin care, let the Health Department handle it. Do not shove everything to the school without support.
Coppa: You could spend a lifetime just keeping an eye on all of these mandates that come out of the Legislature, whether it is for skin care or class size, and there are just too many. Instead, we should give the power to the principals.
Carey: On the issue of governance, if there is no relationship to the fiscal responsibility, it is almost impossible. One of the problems of the existing board is they are not in the governor’s system and they are not in the legislative system and they have no taxing power and no ability to manage the budget except what is given to them. If the board was appointed, it would be part of the governor’s administration, and I am not necessarily defending that, but at least the administration is responsible for serving up the budget and is accountable for the budget. But it does not solve the problem that Joan talked about, micromanagement and interference by the Legislature. I am all in favor of lump sum budgeting and I think that really works, provided that you have the range of outcome measurements for the institution like educational performance that go along with lump sum budgeting.
Petranik: Ruth, you run a school. Do you want a lump sum that you would have more control over?
Silberstein: I don’t mind having more control provided it is not over things that have nothing to do with education and instruction. Don’t ask me to handle food services while I am trying to get the teachers to instruct the kids, giving them the better practices and training. It’s like our hands are tied with the way budget is given. I cannot save the money that I need for a teacher next year, even though I know I can save money somewhere else now, but I cannot carry it over and use it to get that teacher. My hands are tied when they will say, “You cannot use that money. You have to use it for materials.” And I am yelling, “I need a teacher not the materials.” Categorical funds can’t be used for the kids, you have to use them for something else. Our hands are really tied in a lot of ways.
Petranik: How much of the education budget at your school to you have control over?
Silberstein: About 70 percent.
Petranik: What about 90 percent?
Silberstein: I would not mind 90 percent, where I can say I need that teacher and please let us carry over to next year to use for a teacher.
Carey: To build on your theme of instruction vs. administration: There is a business of running and fixing buildings and budgets, which does not necessarily have anything to do with delivering instruction. Somebody has got to keep the books, make sure the halls get cleaned and the air conditioners get repaired, and so forth, but that is not necessarily related to instruction and is a separate skill. An educator does not necessarily learn how to be an asset manager or a building manager.
Petranik: Do you want the person who does those functions at the school or somewhere else?
Carey: It probably depends on the efficiencies and the size. If you have a fully developed high school that has several buildings and a large campus it might make sense to have that person onsite. Or it might make sense to create a new complex efficiently covered by a controller or, if the district is small, it might make sense to put it at the district. It all depends.
Coppa: It is like a building; hire a manager who manages the building and that’s their responsibility. You make the phone call: “The air is not working. The pool is not working.” That is all the school should have to do. Whether or not that function is at the DOE’s central office, it makes sense to have a separate administrator.
Petranik: If we let principals focus mainly on instruction, how should we evaluate them?
Coppa: I think we should base it on student performance. They should get an increase and rewards for good outcomes.
Petranik: And get fired if they do not deliver?
Coppa: They did it in Rhode Island last week.
Husted: Or they tried to.
Coppa: Do they get fired? It’s like our business; we won’t just fire someone. We will give you a process, 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 take into account that certain schools have, say, more poverty-income students?
Coppa: That is part of the student-weighted formula, considering whether English is a second language. At Princess Kaiulani Elementary School in Kalihi across from Tamashiro Market, they will tell you it is very tough. During the day the 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, and educators need to be rewarded if they meet certain goals. Every school cannot be the same.
Carey: Pay for performance only works really well when the measurements are understood by both sides and they are fair. The longitudinal measurement of academic performance has not yet come to pass in public schools. That would really help and that’s longitudinal by student, regardless of where they go, regardless of what grade they are in, and until you have a base measurement system that everybody says, “This is the system and we like it,” pay for performance is really tough. It is not to say that you don’t have people everyone knows, whether it be on a peer basis or by evaluation of principals, they are not measuring up, but it is complicated particularly in a large system.
Suiso: What would also be difficult is every school is different and so how are you going to evaluate the principal? Because their scores went up? Are you going to evaluate them and say they are good because they have been able to retain teachers?
Witt: I think it would be difficult to evaluate principals like Ruth unless we agreed upon, as David suggested, what we mean by student learning. If we are going to evaluate Ruth on student learning getting better, and if we assume that student learning gets better when teaching gets better, and teaching gets better when Ruth has the time to get into classrooms and coach and mentor her teachers, then the question becomes: Does Ruth have the time to do that given all of her administrative duties? I have visited a good number of public schools. The front office staff of a public school looks very different than that of a private school. There is simply is not enough support staff at the school level (in public schools) to do that.
To build on Candy’s idea, my proposal would be to look at the way private school principals are evaluated. Every school is different, public or private. The person who knows best what the school needs to do over the next three to five years is the principal. Ruth knows what she needs to do to move her school forward in the next three to five years. To begin, we should allow Ruth to sit down with somebody, maybe the Board of Education, and develop target goals for her. Ruth would set five or six or ten institutional goals that she would hope to achieve and then we have an agreement. David said there has to be an agreement. I think Ruth would set the stage. She would have somebody sign off on that with her and then evaluate each year how much progress has been made toward those goals because you simply cannot have the same system for every single school.
Petranik: Is that what private schools do when they hire a principal? The goals are set out in advance?
Witt: It can be done every year. It can be done every three years. Every five years. It can be done in conjunction with an accreditation cycle. Slow improvement that is both instructional and institutional, and I would suggest you have a few goals in each area. It could be done on an annual basis but that is probably too short. I would suggest five or six years and that would also encourage principals to see a cycle of improvement as being five or six years. Principals would stay in long enough to see that through and then perhaps longer, and you can actually measure these agreed-upon goals for a particular school because Palolo Elementary is different from Waianae High School.
Husted: Work has already been done on that particular issue and I think Candy is aware of what we called Model O, which was a performance-based salary schedule that we negotiated with the state in 1997, then could not get them to implement it. What was in Model O that does not get talked about very much was called the School Bonus System, the idea that a school is a team. It is not just principal and teachers, but custodians and your cafeteria workers and your school secretary and your clerks, all make up a team that move a school along. And so what the Department of Education’s Office of Evaluation did is they came up with a formula that fit every school. Waianae High School would have one formula based on what its test scores were, its dropout rate, its attendance rate, and they came up with a whole formula, and then what Model O did is it said, “If you meet your benchmarks that get set by the school or you move something by one percentage point, then everybody in the school got a bonus.”
Coppa: That is how we evaluate and give bonuses in private business.
Husted: And that process still exists; in fact, it was put into Race for the Top (a new federal education program).
Coppa: But we cannot do it one formula for every school. There are too many differences.
Husted: Most people do not understand testing. If I have moved all the kids from 00 to the 20th percentile, but this teacher moved them from 60 to the 80th percent, who made the greatest gain? Well the one from 00 to 20th percentile. That is just the nature of standardized testing.
Carey: There needs to be a sea change attitudinally in state government institutions. 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. The challenge in a lot of state government agencies, if you make that 10th mistake, there is a whole process about, “Oh my God! Someone has made a mistake on this one thing.” Now, we need to set up a system and process so that that mistake will never get made again. Well, if you roll that over a period of time, people are smart: They figure out, “I am not going to do anything that is going to cause the ire of the system to go after me. It does not matter that I did nine things right, I got zinged for the one thing that I did wrong.” So you roll that times 20 years and pretty soon no one in the system is willing to take a risk or do anything.
Witt: I think we should reward principals for what somebody said recently: Fail early and fail often. We need risk-taking, adventurous, innovative, creative principals that are willing to try new things. I think part of the evaluation should be that there are two or three goals that are fail-able, because that would prove that Ruth is trying some new things and taking some risks. We do not have research and development in education. So the research and development really relies upon the principal who knows his or her school, takes risks, experiments, pilots new programs, fails now and then, but at least makes the effort. David is right. We do not have that kind of mind set in our state and therefore Ruth might try some of those things but she might not tell anybody.
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).
Husted: Neighbor Island teachers like that, too.
Suiso: I believe there a lot of really exciting, innovative principals in the Department of Education. They just do not have the time or energy to do the innovative stuff. They are out-of-the-box thinkers but they are so caught up right now in just dealing with the issues going on now. We have a new principal at Waianae High School (Nelson Shigeta), and he is trying to not only figure out what was done before him but he is trying to deal with the school right now, and he is trying to look ahead and deal with programs like Searider Productions, where we want to be a new tech network school. He is all over the place. I hear him speak about what he wants to do for Waianae. He says things like, “If it is not going to happen now, it may never happen,” which I believe, but he does not have the time or the energy to do it because he is so caught up doing the day-to-day work. He cannot mentor his vice principals. He cannot go into the classrooms to see what the teachers are doing. He is just stuck and it is depressing.
Witt: He doesn’t have the staff.
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.
Carey: I had the great privilege of being on the Punahou Board. In fact, I just came from a board meeting and Punahou has redefined the educational delivery for the younger kids. In the middle school, for example, they have pods of 92 kids with all of the subjects and all four teachers in the pods all cooperating and they all coordinate on the students. It is a different education now, and because if Mrs. Jones and Mr. Smith do not agree on Johnny down here in the model that you described then Johnny does not like Mrs. Jones and likes Mrs. Smith better. When Mrs. Jones and Mr. Smith have to get together and say what are we doing about Johnny, it makes a real difference in the output delivery for them.
Coppa: Candy and I have an opportunity to go to Los Angeles to see one of those schools and they work in pods.
Suiso: Really, they all coordinate. They talk to each other and so that the kids spend a whole semester working on a project, a very intense project, intense reading, writing, research. The English and Social Studies teachers are in the same class and they share the same students, so when the bell rings they do not need to move. It is a very different bell schedule and a very different school day, and a very, very different way of teaching, and the kids get it.
In L.A., we visited a rural area with very low test scores, high dropout rate quite similar to our district, but you saw kids who were engaged and excited. Learning was relevant, they were having fun, they were working together collaboratively, and ultimately, is not that what we want for our kids when they leave high school – we want them to be team players. We want them to have respect for self, respect for others. “What do you want in the work world?” we always ask. “What do you look for?” That is what we want to do: prepare these kids for the real world and that is working collaboratively.
Carey: When they work collaboratively the peer pressure for individual performance rises.
Coppa: When we dealt with this model, if you were not performing, do you know who called the parent?
Suiso: The student.
Coppa: Yes, the student called the parent.
Suiso: You got fired from your group.
Witt: We want the kids to grow up with 21st century skills. We want them to be project based, team-based, collaborative. If we want them to have good communication skills, the adults in the schools have to model that behavior. So we would have to create a different adult learning culture in our school so that the adults are showing the kids this is how it is done. (We need to show) we teachers are working in teams; we are collaborating; we are taking risks with one another; we are evaluating each other; we are pushing each other.
Carey: It also makes the peer review process of teacher’s work easier because they are used to working with each other.
Suiso: The teacher becomes a facilitator. You asked: How can you support the teacher? Make sure in these settings, the teachers have the resources in the classroom and they are trained so that they can train their students how to work in groups. It got to the point where we saw students saying, “OK, 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 they are meeting their deadline using technology as a tool for learning.
Silberstein: A lot of the instructional aspects that you just mentioned are in place now. They are starting this transformation especially with restructured schools. At Palolo, we have gone through all of this where the 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 cannot say how proud I am of the teachers at Palolo School. They went through that painful experience and it is no longer “my classroom,” it is “our school.” We are accountable for every student.
Carey: Yes. The best performance measurement may not be the individual entirely. It may be by team and that also gauges peer support.
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 to help restructuring schools). They came in and they turned us inside out. Things that we should have been doing years ago were never done and so the attitude of every teacher had to change, the work ethic and atmosphere in the classroom had to change. Gone were all those kiddy posters. Now it was 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 HAS (Hawaii State Assessment annual tests). Now, we test our students every month. The teachers get together, we look together at the results and ask, “Where are the weak areas?” or “We need to regroup kids, these are the best practices that I am going to use.” A lot of collaboration.
Coppa: Have you brought that to the Board of Education? To me that’s a model the board would embrace.
Witt: But I think that’s leaving one thing out. We really underestimate how resistant any culture is whether it is a hotel or a school or a magazine. People do not like to change.
Witt: But how do we change? At Palolo, a person was making that change happen and that was Ruth, and Ruth has probably figured out how to model the kinds of behaviors that she wants her teachers to engage in, but somebody had to give them permission to behave differently. It usually comes from a transformative leader like Ruth. That demonstrates the central importance of the building principle that person has to embody these types of 21st century leadership competencies and capacities to get movement within a fairly rigid school culture. I do not know exactly what you did Ruth but I know that you did something, otherwise there would not be any movement, so I think the credit always goes to a single person or a team of leaders working together.
Petranik: Ruth, can you confirm there was resistance?
Silberstein: Oh, there was. It was so painful. Tears, anger, the arrows at me.
Petranik: And how did you get them through to the Promised Land?
Silberstein: I had to keep focused no matter what and treat them with the respect that is due to every educator. As for the arrows, I had to not let it get me down, although I am human and it was very painful for everyone.
Husted: In organizational development, there are four stages. You form and then you storm, and when she moved to a new direction that is the storming stage and that is where most people quit. They quit at the storming stage. They do not get onto the norming or performing stages.
Carey: In the state government system, there are lots of easy opportunities to help stall processes like that.
Husted: Yeah and part of it is that we have a lot of people in the DOE who are not in good fits. The fact that somebody was a successful school administrator does not mean that they are going to be very good at working in the budget office or they are going to really good working in other places, no more than I was a great chemistry teacher so now you make me an elementary principal. There’s a lot of misfitting of people into places in the process.
I would like to pick up on something Candy talked about and that is a longer day. When Don Nugent was assistant superintendent for personnel – he was just a great assistant superintendent – we looked at the Las Vegas school system, which at that point ran its schools from 7 in the morning to 10 in the evening. They had different shifts because in Las Vegas, adults were working at casinos during the day – they were not working Penney’s and the drugstores and what have you – so they wanted the kids, especially the high school kids, to be able to work businesses, clerking jobs, and what have you, and so they had to adjust the school day. In 1997, we came out with a 12-month year for teachers and we were going to pilot it in three schools in each of the seven districts. Instead of teachers having intercessions off, they would do curriculum planning. They might run extra classes for youngsters who need it, and you got your summer break. The only thing that stopped this was $54 million. We could not implement it because it would have cost $54 million.
We (the Hawaii State Teachers Association) have supported the longer day. We have supported the longer year and we keep tripping over what it is going to cost to do that, not just for teachers and making school administrators 12 months, but aides who are now going to 12 months. We are always going to trip over that until we figure out a way to resolve that issue. Even in a 190-day year, if you give the planning days, you are talking $140 million over two years just at the current salaries, just for teachers. I am not talking about principals and anybody else in that process, but we are going to have to do it. We have got to change our system. We are just foolish if we think we can run schools on the same time and the same year we do now.
Petranik: We have hit on a key topic: money. I am going to ask the business people first but I want everybody to chime in. David, is there money to be saved in the school system that we can then spend in a classroom?
Carey: In my own opinion, based on what I have seen in the administrative side, if you re-engineered the central office, there is a lot of money that could be put in the classroom. One of the examples is the OHR, Office of Human Resources. It is a manual system. Now, in manual systems you need a lots of people, you need lots of files, you needs lots of space. In a computerized system, you do not. In the financial system, where everything is automated and things come through, you need fewer people. The problem is technology has to be invested. Those systems need to be changed and that takes two to three years. So maybe the answer is, over time, if you re-engineer the business processes, I believe there is a whole lot of money associated with it. The challenge is: it does not come quick and you have to invest more first to get that. Investing in computers and changing processes, eliminating processes, and doing all of that kind of stuff.
Coppa: There was a lot of waste in offices, the facilities. We are spending money on antiquated facilities, and David’s point is you have got to invest a lot of money upfront to be efficient, but there are returns in the long term.
Carey: A simple example to that is the air conditioning unit. The maintenance guy goes out once a month to fix the same air conditioning unit. What you really need to do is replace the unit. Then it does not need repair for three to five years.
Petranik: Can we put a specific number on the savings?
Carey: It would take some real time to find out. I would be reluctant to make a guess, but my instincts say there is a lot of savings possible.
Coppa: There were studies done to show the efficiencies that could be made by having certain things done. Just the lighting system alone, we could save electricity in a number of ways. There is a whole thing about sustainability, but that takes upfront money to invest so that we recognize it long term. There are some pools we are filling up once a week to keep them full because they leak; you put on a patch, but then in three months you are re-patching, and so you have got to invest and that is the heavy lifting.
Carey: The other piece, which is perhaps more controversial and there has been some dialogue in the community about that, is the evaluation and the efficient use of the buildings and facilities based on the number of students requiring them. You have some schools that are underutilized and some schools that do not have enough space, yet, it is a difficult local community process to rebalance those assets.
Coppa: Private developers would step in and invest if they could use that facility during off-peak times for schools.
Carey: The notion is that perhaps schools can capitalize on real estate value of underutilized facilities. That capital investment maybe means the community gets a win-win.
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.
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.
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…
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.