Praise, concern for principal outcome

The reassignment of Principal Lisa McDonald from Hanalei Elementary School comes with reasons to pause for praise and concern.

Let’s start with the praise.

Good for the parents for taking such an active, decisive role in the education of their children. Quite clearly, they love them and want what’s best for them. They were troubled with the performance and decisions of McDonald last year, her first year on the job, and shared their worries with McDonald and district Superintendent Bill Arakaki. When meetings, letters and phone calls failed to bring about the desired changes, the issue went very public last week when parents, students and other community members formed a group, “Save Hanalei School,” held a pair of meetings to air their grievances and protested in front of the school. They held signs, waved and made it clear they wanted McDonald removed as the school’s principal. The public protest caught school officials by surprise and proved effective. Their requests were heard, their influence was felt.

Monday, McDonald was reassigned to the district office.

This could be considered a textbook case of community activism at its best. Members of Save Hanalei School went through the appropriate steps, pointed out what they considered were errors by McDonald, and let the district know they didn’t believe she was right for the job, that she was harming the education process at the school. Their peaceful protests and meetings led to success. That’s the best part about a democratic government. That’s where people, young people like students, learn of the impact they can have, the difference they can make, if they believe in their cause and are willing to take risks, to take a stand, even when it could upset others. Well done.

But the reassignment of McDonald gives pause for concern, too.

Consider, she wasn’t charged with doing something wrong or illegal. But she did alarm and upset parents and some community members who found fault with what they said was her failure to communicate well, not following through with federally mandated requirements, her management style and some of her decisions, including the one to create a combination kindergarten/first-grade class this school year.

Certainly, people have a right to express their views to McDonald’s supervisors that they had reservations about her abilities as principal. But when they took their discontent public, at meetings and rallied in front of the school, it was certainly embarrassing for McDonald. Yes, things like this come with the territory when you hold a public position funded by tax dollars and you have a higher degree of accountability, but no doubt, she was surprised by their actions.

The issue isn’t whether people have the right to gather and protest. They do. The issue is whether one principal’s decisions and actions deserve to result in public rallies and community meetings directed at them. This was only McDonald’s second year leading the North Shore school. One could ask if her principal style and methods were given a fair chance.

All of this might have been avoided, too, if superintendent Arakaki had responded sooner to parent concerns raised last year. He could have either clearly stated his support for McDonald and said she wasn’t going anywhere, or made a move before the school year started and installed a new principal. That would have headed off the recent turmoil. Parents, as they said, may not have been forced to turn to the public rally as a last resort.

While questions remain over the selection process of a new principal and the combination classroom at Hanalei Elementary School, it’s time to take the lessons learned to heart and move forward together. This is an opportunity for administrators, teachers, parents and the community of Hanalei to unite, utilize each other’s talents, visions and commitment, and create the best education possible for North Shore keiki.

And that, from the very beginning, is what this was all about.


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