Nakashima wants students to like school

Dr. Mitsugi Nakashima, who has been the state Board of Education chairman for

six years and vice chairman for four of his 12 years on the board, says he

wants to do more for public education in Hawai’i.

“I have an abiding

interest in public education, and want to at least influence improvement of

public education,” said Nakashima, 71, a Kalaheo resident and lifelong educator

who is seeking re-election this November. He’s one of three candidates hoping

to be the two who emerge from this Saturday’s primary election.

He retired

from the state Department of Education system after 35 years, several of them

as Kaua’i district superintendent.

“I thought it was natural for me if I

was going to continue in public education, to serve on the Board of Education,”

he said.

Nakashima, who grew up in a home where his parents spoke Japanese

as their first language, is a product of the island’s public-school system. He

said the need for every student to be proficient in reading and writing remains

a key to student success in school and, he feels, in life.

Only the ancient

societies didn’t have a written language, where the spoken word was how

knowledge was passed down from one generation to the next, he said.

Today,

without reading and writing proficiency, “school is a drag” for some students,

he said.

While he acknowledges that there are “outstanding” students in the

public schools, more so than when he was in school, and that there have been

improvements in public education, not all students share “a universal sense of

enthusiasm, motivation, drive to success.”

For many students, education

isn’t important, he bemoaned. And, in many ways, these students don’t like

education because they’re not successful in the classroom, Nakashima

said.

If they don’t like school, they won’t feel motivated to do well.

Forcing them to attend school won’t help, he said.

The quandary is how to

make school satisfying for all students, he continued. Children need a sense

that school is “what I want to be about, and (where) I learn,” he

said.

During his time on the board, the state has revised its literacy

policy, stating that all children will be literate by the end of third

grade.

Turning that policy into reality depends to a large extent on the

competency and proficiency of primary-grade teachers, Nakashima said. The job

of the school system, then, is to make sure all teachers, especially in the

primary grades, are proficient teachers of reading, he said.

Unfortunately,

he said, teacher-training institutions don’t do a good enough job training

teachers.

Nakashima said he doesn’t have a problem with different

techniques being employed to teach reading, as long as students learn to

read.

Hearing, reading and comprehending are all different things. Students

must know what words mean, read critically, and do what he calls “wide reading”

(a variety of books on different subjects) to become proficient, he

said.

Nakashima said he has heard from several teachers that teaching is

not as fun for them as it used to be, and that many of them are eagerly

awaiting their 55th birthdays, when they can retire.

He said the board must

continue to receive feedback from school-level staff, many of whom are “on the

verge of burnout.” Retraining for the standards-based education system

preferred by Dr. Paul LaMahieu, state education superintendent, sometimes adds

to this frustration, Nakashima said.

“It’s got to be much more precise than

it used to be,” he said. Getting through a book is simply not enough, he

said.

Determining how to teach, and how to measure how students are

learning, may mean that statewide standardized tests must change, too, he

added.

He said “tailor-made assessments” may be needed to match the state’s

new, standards-based education system.

Sometimes, when new concepts are

implemented, enough time isn’t allowed to see if they’ll work or not. There is

some need to “stay the course,” and not change when a revolutionary new

technique comes along, he said.

It becomes worse when teachers and other

educational professionals encourage their peers to not work too hard on new

initiatives, as they’ll just be changed, anyway, he said.

Among the major

achievements he points to during his time on the board is the hiring of

LaMahieu, an educator experienced in the standards-based education

system.

The superintendent’s job is a complicated one, and so was the

hiring process. LaMahieu has put together a good strategic plan, which will

need to be modified as it is implemented, so that standards-based education can

work, Nakashima said.

But, just as an architect with an exceptional plan

for a house fails without skilled carpenters and other craftsmen to build it

correctly, so will LaMahieu’s final product without proper implementation from

district superintendents, principals, vice principals, teachers and others,

Nakashima said.

On other issues, Nakashima said the statewide education

system is the best way in Hawai’i to deliver public education, even with

185,000 students. Hawai’i’s school system is among the 10 largest in the United

States, he explained.

Hawai’i is the only state without county or city

school boards, yet Nakashima doesn’t feel the solution to public education’s

problems in the state are local boards.

The federal court requirement that

specific needs be met for special-education students has presented an expensive

price tag (so far $32 million), cumbersome problem that has seen teachers with

no special training being used in special-education classrooms, and learning on

the job.

Teachers with skills in speech therapy, occupational therapy,

physical therapy, and mental health training are hard to find and in demand now

more than ever, as the number of special-education students in the state has

doubled since the court order became effective, Nakashima said.

At the same

time, the needs of students in regular classrooms can’t be ignored, either, he

noted.

All in all, the public education system has allowed him

opportunities to be productive, Nakashima said.

“For me, education has been

good,” he said.

Staff writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at 245-3681

(ext. 224) and [pcurtis@pulitzer.net]

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