High school redesign meets some success

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories on redesign of the public high schools on Kaua’i.

KAPA’A — Principal Gilmore Youn of Kapa’a High School hopes that the devastating effects of the March rains will not impact the Hawaii State Assessment (HSA) results.

March was the testing window for Kaua’i public schools for the HSA.

The scores on the Hawaii Content and Performance Standards portion and the SAT 9 portion of the assessment will be revealed at the start of next school year, and will be used to determine federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) sanctions and how the public views the schools.

The scores make news when they are first revealed, and continue to make headlines throughout the year.

Recently, it was reported that the state of Hawai’i placed second from the bottom on the list of those states reporting the number of schools meeting adequate yearly progress (AYP). Hawaii had 34 percent of its schools making AYP last year.

But test scores alone should not define a student or a school, says Linda L. T. Smith, principal at Kaua’i High School. Principal Bill Arakaki of Waimea High School agrees.

While Arakaki says the pressure to perform well is there, HSA scores “should not drive what we are doing.”

Arakaki goes on to say that if the focus is on reading and math test scores, “we will not build the well-rounded students that we want.”

All three principals agree that the goal is to prepare students for the future, but how each school is redesigning itself to meet that goal is unique to the school.

“Redesigning” has become the buzz word for moving away from the traditional high school to a “Breaking Ranks high school (with) a learning community that reflects a culture born of respect and trust, where the spirit of teaching and learning is driven by student inquiry, reflection, and passion,” according to Breaking Ranks II, a publication by the National Association of Secondary School Principals that outlines strategies for leading high-school reform.

When Kaua’i High School worked on a blueprint three years ago, the school community decided that the school focus needed to be on developing smaller learning communities as a way to redesign the school.

Smith’s philosophy is that high schools must “start preparing kids for life after school, regardless of whether they choose high school as their last educational experience or college.

“(We have to) guide kids more, tap into their potential, help them to realize what their interests are, and base their education around that,” said Smith.

“It sounds so simple, yet it is the most difficult thing to do.”

Smith says that, “overall, our business community is saying that the workers that they are getting are not prepared for work. They lack work ethics, skills

“The schools are not providing them with a work force.”

Smith refers to Breaking Ranks II as a helpful document to describe what needs to be done to redesign high schools.

She said Kaua’i High School was already doing a lot of the suggested strategies because they were involved in Smaller Learning Communities (SLC).

Their involvement in SLC was an outgrowth of Smith’s involvement with a statewide committee on high-school redesign.

Kaua’i High School was able to join with seven other schools to form a consortium to develop SLCs, with financial assistance coming from a federal grant.

Three years ago, the school community put together their “blueprint design,” looking at what the school has, where the school wanted to be, and how the school would get there.

This is the third year of the grant, when changes should be fully implemented.

Smith says such changes cannot be done in only three years, because so many things need to change, and it is hard to change.

The many changes include teaming students and teachers in grades nine and 10, and having students select academies of intensive learning in grades 11 and 12.

The Kaua’i High School registration booklet lists four different academies: Business Academy (which includes the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism); Health and Human Services Academy; Industrial and Engineering Technology Academy; Arts and Communications Academy.

Smith feels that time is needed to fully implement the redesign strategies aimed at developing relationship, relevance, and rigor.

Relationships deal with creating a safe and caring learning environment. Relevance means that courses of study are meaningful to the student. Rigor refers to high expectations and high course standards.

Teaming and academies will take care of the relevance and relationships, and the rigor will develop out of that, says Smith. Higher test scores will naturally follow, but time is needed for all that to happen.

Smith says there are a number of redesign models. They all have similarities. The difference would probably be the cost, she says.

Tomorrow: Waimea’s chosen model

  • Cynthia Matsuoka retired from the state Department of Education last year as principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi. She writes on education exclusively for The Garden Island, and may be reached at matsu5@hawaiiantel.net.
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