KAPAA — David Ledee’s son is an upcoming ninth-grader at Kapaa High School, where, starting next year, classes like honors English and certain elective courses, like digital media, will not be available to incoming freshman.
The recent decision was met with confusion and concerns from parents and students. While school officials say they are inspiring a diverse classroom in which students with all learning abilities can learn, parents of honors-level students believe their children will be held back.
“I want my son to do well. He’s competing with students from the Mainland,” Ledee said. “But how is he going to do that if we don’t have honors classes. Jobs here are given to people on the Mainland. I want my son to be able to get a college education, but come back here to work.”
Ledee was one of about a dozen parents who attended a meeting Thursday with Principal Daniel Hamada, Kauai Complex Area Superintendent Bill Arakaki and other Kapaa High School teachers.
“There are concerns about what we’re doing for next year, and we wanted to take this opportunity to answer questions in terms of what’s happening,” Hamada said.
Hamada added: “When it comes down to it, we have good teachers. We wouldn’t be going down this route if I didn’t think we were ready.”
During the meeting, parents learned the change was only affecting honors English and certain elective classes. It was previously believed honors math classes were going to be taken away as well.
But Kapaa High School doesn’t offer honors math classes. Students are placed in higher-level math classes based on their success in middle school, Hamada said.
“Part of our decision was based on ample research from education commissions that have documented the negative effects of putting students in different classes based on perceived academic ability,” said David Mireles, a tenth-grade English teacher.
That practice, known as tracking, was eliminated in Finland. But Finnish students still have high test scores, he said.
The biggest question on parents’ minds was how teachers were going to be able to foster a positive learning environment in the classrooms with students of different levels and abilities.
“I’m worried my child will be wasting her time,” said Zayda Hennessy, a parent of a Kapaa High School student. “Besides added rigor and two hours of homework, is she really going to be challenged?”
Kahele Keawe, a ninth-grade English teacher, said the school plans on providing each classroom with two teachers, who can divide responsibilities between teaching mainstream and honors students.
“It’s the same curriculum, but it’s differentiated for students,” he said.
Jill Weiner, who has twins enrolling at Kapaa High School next year, suggested implementing a pull-out program for specified learning and allowing students to skip grades or classes.
“I’d like a written plan on how classes will be differentiated,” she said.
Weiner’s children, along with others, have opposed the change through petition, comment sheets and a one-minute video.
Hennessy and Ashley Jones, another parent of a Kapaa High School student, were worried about the atmosphere in the classroom.
“How are you going to manage distractions,” Jones said.
Mireles said he is willing to go “beyond what is necessary” to make sure the higher-performing students are challenged and distractions are minimal.
He gives a student two warnings before the administration takes disciplinary action.
“I don’t want to live in a world where under-education is rampant,” he said.
Pamela Rozsa, tenth-grade English teacher, said she has confidence in her colleagues.
“It might not be perfect at first, but we will do the best to bring what your child needs,” he said.
Ledee said while he understands the school is looking out for the good of the entire student body, he is simply looking out for his own child.
“I’m not bashing the system, but I don’t think anything we could have done anything to change their minds,” he said.