Parents, community members concerned about school conversion

WAIMEA — Kekaha School Principal Carol Shikada, Eleele School Principal Dr. Liela Nitta and WCS Principal Glenda Miyazaki all agree that the middle-school philosophy benefits students.

Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories about the conversion of Waimea Canyon School from kindergarten to eighth grade, to a middle school for those in grades six through eight.

They also agree that it is difficult to implement the middle-school philosophy for sixth graders in a kindergarten-through- sixth-grade setting.

Eleele and Kekaha schools’ sixth-graders will get the full benefit of middle-level education by attending WCS.

The middle-school philosophy, as explained in Board of Education Policy 2406, Turning Points 2000 and This We Believe published by the National Middle School Association, involves supporting the adolescent learner through such strategies as interdisciplinary teaming, advisories and explorations.

These strategies cannot be done effectively when there is only one teacher, as at Kekaha School, said Billi Smith, state Department of Education Kaua’i school renewal specialist.

These are not new thoughts, Smith explained. Conversations began two to three years ago. Nitta said one of her teachers questioned if this was “another discussion that doesn’t materialize,” because they had talked about it previously.

Smith pointed out that the new secondary (i.e. middle and high school) report cards and the new credit requirements of sixth graders will coincide with the target date of 2007-08, adding additional impetus to make the change.

Steps that will be taken to have conversations with parents and communities are being finalized. The schools’ School Community Councils (SCC) have been apprised of the change.

Barbara Franklin, Kekaha School SCC chair, cautioned that it is too early to say that there is a plan. The SCC members must be given an opportunity to present the plan to parents and community members first. Only after that can approval be given, Franklin said.

Lisa Muraoka, Eleele School SCC chair, indicated a few concerns brought out by members of the council included facilities, district lines, and the fate of their sixth-grade teachers.

WCS SCC chair, Holly Acoba, said they were informed of the possibility last week: “We mainly talked about what changes would happen, and the impact on students and staff.”

Non-tenured teachers are apprehensive about the possibility of being displaced, Acoba said. She added that the council was asked to talk to members of the community and get the “feel for what people are feeling and thinking.”

Smith explained that tenured teachers who are being “displaced” by the reconfiguration will be given first choice of any openings island-wide.

The WCS middle school was added to the elementary school in 1977 because “that’s what the community wanted,” Smith said. She feels times have changed.

“The face of Waimea has changed,” she said. It’s a new generation, and they may view things differently.

Shikada said they haven’t taken a survey at Kekaha School, but she doesn’t anticipate strong opposition from her community. The complex will need to do some marketing so everyone can understand why the change is beneficial for students.

Kekaha School will benefit from the addition of about 100 students. This will allow the school to be “financially comfortable” to offer at least two classes at each grade level, Shikada said. Right now, grades five and six have only one class each, of 35 and 36 students, respectively.

Students coming to Kekaha School will also benefit from their strong literacy instruction, Shikada said.

They do not use basals (text-books), but rely on the cycle of guided reading, identifying needs and addressing those needs in small-group instruction.

A transition plan to include teacher articulation must be developed so best practices can be shared, Shikada said.

Nitta said she is expecting the enrollment to grow at Eleele School. In addition to students from WCS, new housing developments in the area promise to add new students.

Nitta served as one of the vice principals at WCS during the 2003-04 school year.

She said she definitely saw the difference between the kindergarten-through-fifthgrade, elementary students, and the sixth-through-eight-grade, middle-level students.

Eleele School teachers do a good job of keeping the sixth graders mixed with the elementary students, Nitta said.

They have the sixth graders support the younger ones by serving as role models. The fact that the sixth graders are ready to move into adolescence is still noticeable. “They are ready to move on,” Nitta said.

Nitta said one parent expressed the hope that the Eleele School sixth-grade teacher her child would have moves to WCS. Nitta says this is an example of how important relationships are.

Smith also feels relationships are the key in preparing for the reconfiguration.

“It’s that relationship piece. It’s that trust piece about people that you know that will make (the conversion) happen. Because the change is predicated on what is best for the child, the question becomes, ‘How can we support (parents) so their child will be OK?'” Smith said.

  • Cynthia Matsuoka, a Lihu’e-based freelance writer, is the former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi, and writes periodically on education issues exclusively for The Garden Island. Messages for her may be left with Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, at 245-3681, ext. 224, or pcurtis@kauaipubco.com.
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