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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Regard for our public schools fluctuates

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

It almost seems that our perception of Hawai'i's public schools is seasonal.

This time of year, when scholastic awards and college scholarships are being announced at graduation ceremonies, and trophies and medals are being passed out at award banquets and assemblies, Hawai'i's public schools seem pretty good.

But next year, an election year, watch the perceptions change. Listen as candidates talk about how horrible the conditions are for students and teachers (and how committed they are to making the schools better, if only they get the chance.) Whole campaigns will be built on how deplorable the state of education is in Hawai'i.

That's why it's important to appreciate this time of year, when the many successes of public education are being celebrated. It's like enjoying a warm summer knowing a brutal winter is on its way. Yeah, it's the same school system, but it looks so much better in the sunlight than in the snow that some candidates will shovel at it.

Last week, almost 200 public school students were honored at an awards ceremony sponsored by the Board of Education, Hilton Hawaiian Village and Aloha Airlines. Two hundred was a small number, nearly half the size of the annual luncheon. Many of the honorees chose to stay in class to make up time lost during the strike.

The accomplishments represented in that room were inspiring. All the students were recipients of national honors. Some were for specific academic subjects, like the clean sweep Kahuku High and Intermediate students made in the History Day competition. Some were for excellence in industrial and technical subjects, like auto mechanics, architectural drafting and carpentry.

And then there were the overall academic stars.

Four students from Pearl City High School were congratulated for being named National Merit Scholars. Five students were honored for being AP scholars in their junior year of high school , a feat that had some teachers in the audience gasping with admiration. And the showstopper: Naupaka Zimmerman, a student from Waiakea High School, got a standing ovation for being both a National Merit Scholar and a Presidential Scholar after scoring a perfect 1600 on his SATs.

Next year, when the candidates are yapping about how terrible the schools are (and how they're gonna fix things) let's try to get them talking about specific issues and concrete ways they can help the schools, because to make blanket statements condemning a public school education is insulting to the students who are among the best in the country.

Yes, we can do better by them, but let's not forget that the trophy case is pretty full.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Her e-mail address is lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.