School Community Councils taking hold after first year

Schools have completed their first year incorporating School Community Councils established by the Reinventing Education Act of 2004 — also known as Act 51.

For the King Kaumuali‘i School SCC, the biggest hurdle was understanding the process and responsibilities and “what we are about,” Principal Karen Liu said.

The community members needed background information on the school system and everyone needed to understand the requirements of Act 51. “The learning curve was amazing,” Liu said.

The King Kaumuali‘i SCC bylaws established a 12-member council with three alternates representing six role groups.

Council members attended a training session sponsored by the Kaua‘i District before the school year started. The sessions gave an overview of the SCC and covered roles and responsibilities.

One of the first things the SCC needed to do was look at data. Liu presented Hawaii State Assessment results and school level testing like the SAT 10 for grade levels other than the ones tested with the HSA. Liu said she tried to explain the connection between the data and school programs and resources.

Liu said the SCC members were able to make generalizations from the data and posed good questions. They were able to go deeper into the data and see, for example, that even though fifth-grade math scores dropped 1 percentage point from the previous year, the “well below proficiency” category percentage decreased, indicating improvement.

After looking at the data, the SCC had the overall sense that the school had a plan and was progressing, Liu said.

No major issues faced the SCC, Liu said. According to ACT 51, principals are responsible for developing and presenting the academic and financial plans to the SCC for its review and approval. When Liu first presented information, she presented all the forms the state sent. The sheer amount of information in the detailed forms “blew them away,” Liu said.

Members of the SCC recommended that the information be consolidated so it would be more understandable. They wanted to know the total amount to be budgeted and where the money was going in broad categories.

Liu feels that if they need to plan for budget cuts for the 2007/2008 school year, the SCC will be faced with some hard issues. Liu feels that with the good working relationship among council members, the SCC will be able to work through the issues.

At their latest meeting, the SCC worked on self-evaluation and identified possible next steps, which included further clarification of roles and responsibilities and looking at times to hold meetings that would enable more people to attend. They also saw that reflecting at the end of each meeting and then planning for the next meeting should be added to each agenda.

Liu said her goals for the SCC next year is to gain a deeper understanding of what the SCC is all about. The parent and community role groups need assistance in becoming more familiar with the school system.

One idea might be for members to join in on faculty and staff focus groups as groups meet about standards-based education, quality student support, and professionalism and capacity of the system. It would help members understand school decisions more. It would be difficult, however, for parents and community members to attend such meetings because of their work schedules, Liu said.

“We have a complicated system,” Liu said. It’s difficult for “outsiders” to understand why we do what we do. Still, representatives from the business arena are a “breath of fresh air because they give us another perspective,” Liu said.

She said she learns from them.

Christopher Gampon is that kind of member on the King Kaumuali‘i SCC. He is one of the parent members (his son Kawaikini is in the second grade and his daughter Isabel will be in kindergarten next school year) and also serves as the SCC chair or facilitator. Gampon said in a telephone interview that the main challenge this year was working through the process.

The process ended up different than what was presented at the training, Gampon said. Having been a member of the School Community Based Management council, he was used to being actively involved. “SCC was supposed to be this great change with more responsibility. Now there is less responsibility than they made it out to be,” Gampon said.

Gampon feels it is good for most people, but for him, because he is in business, he wants to understand more about how money is being spent. He said that the way the school operates is different from private enterprise. “It is almost like a foreign concept,” Gampon said.

He feels the process is more complex than it needs to be. He said it is interesting to him how business decisions can be made following the restrictive and confusing rules.

One of his goals for next year is to spend more time in the process of reviewing and responding to the academic and financial plans.

Another goal is to increase participation in the SCC and community meetings.

He would like to find a good meeting time so that all members can attend all meetings. Gampon said he heard that at another school, there is an audience at SCC meetings. At another, people attend SCC meetings to give input. He would like to see that kind of active participation.

King Kaumuali‘i SCC members hold staggered terms for continuity from one school year to the next. King Kaumuali‘i is holding elections for next year’s SCC this month. Liu said that “The Notice of Elections” was distributed in early April. Only one parent indicated an interest in being elected to the council, so they sent out the notice again. They now have five names on the ballot.

Gampon said it is important to get enough people in line to serve. They need to become more involved so they know the responsibilities involved in participating on the SCC when it comes time to elect new members.

Two community meetings per year are mandated by Act 51. One is to share data and one is to share the academic and financial plans. Gampon said that besides the SCC members, one parent showed up at one community meeting and none at the other. He doesn’t know why participation is so poor. When he talked to other SCC members at training sessions, he realized everyone has different communities to serve, so how King Kaumuali‘i solves their problem of non-participation may be different from others.

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at aharju@kauaipubco.com

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