‘Literacy is everything’

LIHUE — From 2012 to 2015, no other school in the state of Hawaii had more reduced English remediation in college for students attending the University of Hawaii more than Kauai and Waimea high schools.

Kauai and Waimea high schools are leading the state’s charge to improve literacy and reduce remediation. In other words, less students from these schools who enroll at UH have to retake high school-level English classes in college.

Kauai High reduced remediation from 40 percent to 13 percent over the three-year span, while Waimea High reduced its remediation from 44 percent to 21 percent.

“The data reflects the hard work of the school leadership as well as the efforts by teachers and students,” said Donalyn Dela Cruz, director of the HIDOE’s Communications and Affairs Office. “For the last four to five years, Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi has been focusing on ways to transform public education.”

Matayoshi sees this recent study as a step in the right direction.

“First of all, there’s still room for improvement,” Matayoshi said. “(Remediation rates) are much improved but as long as there are kids with remediation, there is still work to be done. We want to look at ways for students to excel in work and really be able to get into the workplace.”

Matayoshi credits the hard work done by teachers and principals at each school for collaborating and keeping an open dialogue with each other.

Waimea and Kauai high schools actually share information, helping each other improve for the sake of each school’s students.

“All the principals on the island meet monthly,” said Anne Kane, principal at Kauai High. “I think the Kauai complex, which has three high schools, collaborate and all learn from each other and build consistency with what we’re doing. Collaboration is extremely useful. We’re very consistent with our meetings and communicating with each other. But I think that it’s really our teachers that are doing such a good job — when they see a need, that they address it.”

“I’m super proud of our teachers, but I’m also really proud for Kauai and Kapaa, too,” said Mahina Anguay, principal at Waimea High. “In the long run, it’s going to pay off for everybody. It’s in our vested interest to make sure every single kid can read well and be good at math and numbers.”

Matayoshi is proud of the work being done by teachers and administers to make an effort to communicate with each other.

“They have done a tremendous job in terms of leadership and understanding their community,” Matayoshi said. “I have to say, being on Kauai, it’s a special place and they work really together and do what’s best for the community. I think every school is at a different place but they’re all making progress. That’s what’s really important to me. They know their community and they know their students and what will make the biggest impact.”

Transforming public education has been on the HIDOE’s agenda over the past few years, and Kauai High’s implementation of Common Core Standards in 2009 has made a real impact in the classroom, according to John Medeiros, head of the English department at Kauai High.

Kauai High opened up advanced placement language arts classes to all students shortly after embracing Common Core practices, which has given students the preparation they need for college.

“After these adjustments, all grades were focused on a similar set of skills that were more aligned with what they would need to do in college — using text to support analysis,” Medeiros said. “And then we had every single 11th- and 12th-grader taking AP or college-level English.”​

Kauai High began using Common Core standards in the classroom seven years ago, two years before the HIDOE got on board with the plan in 2011.

“We hope we’re preparing our students, and it’s heartening to see (these results),” Medeiros said. “We dug into our own data back in 2009 and have seen steady improvement for the past five to six years.”

With these standards now fully implemented on a statewide level, public high school students are benefiting with more challenging courses that will better prepare them for college.

“Common Core standards are very important in terms of explaining what kids need to know about what they have to do to succeed after high school,” Matayoshi said. “Expectations are high and Kauai schools have embraced that and students have stepped up to meet them. When you give students the opportunity to step up, they do. Kids want to be challenged and know what they’re capable of.”

By focusing on collaboration and improving instruction, the HIDOE hopes to expose high school students to new career opportunities, according to Matayoshi.

With tougher courses at the high school level, Matayoshi understands that some students may find it difficult to keep up with the workload if they aren’t passionate about the work they’re doing.

“With the data and focus on that, we can be a lot more targeted on how you teach,” Matayoshi said. “Once students see that these classes are important, if you can link work and life experiences relevant to them, the students will see what they need to do. We show them how these courses link from their desire to their career. The more they see opportunity linked to studying that they should be doing, they will see that it’s in their own interest to pursue.”

AP classes have become top priorities for students at Kauai High, particularly the English courses. The AP English class went from 20 to almost 100 students in a year, according to Medeiros.

“Students like the opportunity to pursue those types of challenges,” Medeiros said. “There’s still always going to be those students who don’t take those courses, but a lot of students want to grow up and go to college. If you ask the students if they want to spend a year cruising and being bored instead of being ready for college, nobody will say they want that.”

Although happy with the results of the study and the performances of their students in the classroom, Medeiros and Kane aren’t satisfied just yet.

“The biggest thing is to keep doing what we’re doing, but do it better,” Kane said. “Keep doing what we’re doing while continuing to add tools to the toolbox.”

Adding tools to the toolbox is essential for sustained growth, especially in a world that is constantly evolving to the point that being literate, not only in reading, but also in math, science and other areas of study create limitless possibilities for students, according to Anguay.

“That’s what we work so hard for. That’s why we do what we do,” Anguay said. “That’s why we’ve allocated all of our resources for students to not only be college ready, but work and community ready. Literacy is everything. The world is so different now, and we have to prepare our students for it.”

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