Financial woes could close adult school

LIHU‘E — While all teachers work hard to ensure their students make it to graduation, Ray Paler is going into overdrive to make sure his students receive their high school diplomas by May 29.

He’s doubling the number of people in his classes, adding extra instruction days on the weekend and traveling to Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i and Waimea high schools to meet with his students.

Paler is doing this because he is doubtful the Kaua‘i Community School for Adults — based at Kaua‘i High School — will have funding when the fiscal year closes in June to continue its work helping adult students earn their high school diploma.

“We are preparing as if we are not coming back,” Paler said. “If we are kept alive, it won’t be in this form.”

Paler is an instructor for the adult school’s Competency-Based High School Diploma Program, one of three programs that helps students earn their high school diplomas.

Competency-based diplomas

The program Paler teaches — the Competency-Based High School Diploma Program — is one of three methods students can use to earn their high school diploma through the state’s Adult Education Program.

The other two methods are: the Credit Method, where students are required to complete 24 credits; and the GED Test Method, where students attend a course at a community school, complete one semester at a high school and pass a GED test.

The competency-based method addresses the academic and career goals of a student. To earn their diplomas, students must pass multiple tests in addition to continuing their education at a secondary institution. They must find employment, obtain a marketable skill or demonstrate home and life management skills.

“We have a classroom setting,” Paler said of the program he teaches. “We are taking four years of high school and condensing it into 10 months, which is the fastest amount of time a student can do it.”

On average, students meet twice a week for three hours per day. They use an online literacy instruction program, Achieve3000, to complete exercises in and out of the classroom.

Budget cuts

This isn’t the first time the adult school has been affected by budget constraints.

The adult school lost a principal due to a tightened budget in 2011, resulting in a resource staff member from Kaua‘i High School overseeing the program, Paler said.

The number of instructors teaching the program was also downsized from four to three at the end of 2010. The instructor position was left vacant, and Paler took it upon himself to fill the void and teach the classes the fourth instructor had led at Kapa‘a High School.

Paler said he was brought on as a part-time instructor — hired to work 17 hours a week. But he estimates he spends about 45 to 50 hours a week working with his students.

“I don’t count prep time, consultations with students or traveling,” Paler said. “I’m semi-retired, and this is my opportunity to give back to the community.”

Achieving success

In February, Paler and one of his students, Victoria Pu‘ulei, traveled to Honolulu to attend the Hawai‘i Literacy Conference. Pu‘ulei was chosen as the winner of the Grand Achiever Award for completing the most online exercises — 46 exercises with a score of 75 percent or better — in a four-week time frame.

“I was already doing this program, but my teacher told me to work hard to try and get my diploma,” Pu‘ulei said. “I was doing it for fun, but I didn’t think I was going to win.”

Pu‘ulei has been enrolled in the program since December, and she is on track to graduate with her high school diploma. She plans on enrolling at Kaua‘i Community College after she graduates in May.

“Despite what she’s gone through, she’s successful in this program,” Paler said. “Not only did Victoria get an award, but her whole class got to share the honor with her, too.”

During the 2010–2011 school year, 98 Kaua‘i students earned their high school diplomas through the competency-based program, according to Claudia Dresser of the adult school.

As of February, there are 30 students enrolled in the competency-based program.

“I think it’s a shame,” Dresser said about the upcoming budget cuts. “We have so many students here who need this service. There’s a good chance it’s going to be cut.”

Dresser said there’s a strong need in the community for the program, and many prospective students might be discouraged if they are limited to the GED Method to get their diploma.

“In that case, it would be very difficult,” Dresser said. “It’s $75 for one test, and if they blow it, they have to take it again.”

Currently, it costs students $10 per semester to enroll in the competency-based program, plus a $5 fee for the mastery test and a placement fee of $5 (if needed), according to the Department of Education website.

Paler predicts that if funding doesn’t come through, the competency-based program will function at a lesser capacity, with the program overseen by the Honolulu-based office.

“At this point in time, we are proceeding as if we are not going to come back in June,” Paler said. “We are at the end of the trough. Everything is upstream, and we only get whatever money gets trickled down to us.”

• Andrea Frainier can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@thegardenisland.com.

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