Waimea Canyon School conversion forums air concerns

Community forums were held at Waimea Canyon, ‘Ele‘ele Elementary, and Kekaha Elementary schools regarding Waimea’s conversion to a middle school. Attendance ranged from 10 to 20 people, with Kekaha having the largest turnout.

School Renewal Specialist for West Complex Billi Smith said it was interesting that concerns brought up reflected the different school communities.

Karen Aka, co-founder of Collaborative Action for Public Education, facilitated the community forums. She sorted the questions asked at the forums into “Concerns-Based Adoption Model” stages which revealed that most questions were information — “I would like to know more about it,” and consequences — “How is this going to affect my kids?”

There were two community forums conducted at Waimea Canyon School, one for grades four through eight and one for grades kindergarten through three. One comment heard clearly and strongly from parents and community was that they didn’t understand why the school couldn’t be both an elementary and middle school.

Another was why they weren’t asked before the decision was made to convert.

“Because of the strength of the sentiments, a survey was sent to parents of kindergarten through grade three parents,” Smith said.

The survey was to get more information and to allow parents who did not attend the forum to voice their opinions, Smith said.

The survey asked for responses on student safety and well being, bus transportation, student learning and related issues. “The survey clarified what needed to be addressed,” WCS Principal Glenda Miyazaki said.

“It is an emotional issue for many parents who graduated from Waimea High School and live in the community,” Miyazaki said.

On the one hand are the ties with the school. On the other hand, the projected enrollment shows a decline. With the staffing cuts predicted because of weighted student funding, more classes combining two grade levels may need to be created, Miyazaki said.

Miyazaki also said that new Department of Education promotion guidelines will be in effect in 2007-2008 requiring that sixth graders earn credits. Currently students are promoted by credits starting in the seventh grade.

“The curriculum would need to be different, reflecting more of the complexity or rigor found in the upper grades,” Miyazaki said.

The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade configuration would be a natural progression to really delve into the middle school philosophy and practices, Miyazaki said.

When you go on campus, she said, you see the different emotional, academic, physical developmental stages. Sixth-graders are ready to be involved in their learning in a hands-on way.

“They need a curriculum to address their growth, which can be done better in a middle school,” Miyazaki said.

It would be difficult for Kekaha and ‘Ele‘ele elementary schools to offer the sixth-graders what is necessary to maximize their education as a middle school learner, Smith said.

The WCS School Community Council reviewed the results of the survey. Using the same concern-based model that Aka used, Smith grouped the survey results according to the concerns and attached corresponding possible interventions.

The Waimea Canyon SCC agreed that they need more time to go over the information and decide which interventions to adopt.

“Initially they discussed the need to provide more information one-on-one or in small groups, rather than big meetings,” Smith said.

They agreed that the 32-percent response rate would give them valid information on which to decide next steps.

All SCC members also agreed to sign a letter supporting the middle school conversion. Smith said ‘Ele‘ele and Kekaha elementary schools’ SCCs will also decide whether or not to sign letters of support.

Smith said she and Miyazaki want a task force to meet and chart out what needs to be done. Miyazaki said the group needs to be small. Smith said that as facilitator, she will help the group make sense of the bigger picture. Subgroups that include parents and community members can then be formed to work on details during the school year.

The criteria for the task force members will include effective teachers of standards-based education and a willingness to continue professional conversations with colleagues. Members will need to commit to researching components of middle school philosophy, develop a timeline, and incorporate accreditation recommendations.

“If we do the structure, the framework, (during the summer) and build the part of the car that has the wheels, it will make it go (during the school year),” Smith said.

Miyazaki said it is nice to have next year to get more information, put in instructional pieces, and get adjusted to the change.

“If we want it to work, we need to plan and to build,” Miyazaki said. “People must come in with the attitude that they will make it work.”

There are indications that some parents are getting a jump on the change, Smith said. A few parents living in the WCS district have requested geographic exceptions to attend Kekaha Elementary next year. Lower elementary teachers have transferred, perhaps anticipating the changes.

At this time, there are five students registered for kindergarten at WCS. The numbers may grow with late registration. Throughout the year children move, which may add numbers to the kindergarten class.

“Everything must be transparent and conscious,” Smith said.

The plan must be clearly laid-out in easy-to-understand terms, she said. Everybody must understand; we cannot afford to go on assumptions.

“It is a monumental task and a wonderful opportunity,” Smith said. “We need to take one day at a time and be real clear about where we are going.”

• 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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