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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, April 26, 2002

Summer schools low on courses, teachers

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Signing up for summer school classes has gotten more competitive this year — a result of 40 large-scale classroom renovations happening across the state, a shortage in the number of teachers available and the abbreviated breaks that come from year-round school.

As thousands of public school students go to sign up for additional coursework this summer, educators say there are a variety of reasons why it could be tougher than ever to squeeze into that extra math or English class.

Puanani Wilhelm, an educational specialist at the Department of Education, said summer school has become more difficult for campuses to schedule and staff because more than half of Hawai'i public schools have adopted a year-round schedule.

"Some of the schools start in mid-July and there's only six weeks off," Wilhelm said. "It's hard to find teachers who are willing to give up that short summer. If all you have is six weeks and you want to take a vacation with your family or take a class for professional development, there's not a lot of time left."

With 40 campuses undergoing classroom renovations, which started this spring and should last through the fall, there are fewer buildings available for summer school.

Kailua High School usually offers a wide range of classes and has so many students that summer school seems almost like a regular semester. But this year, the campus has had to cut back to the basics because of classroom remodeling that starts in mid-May and will continue through the summer.

"We just don't know where we're going to have space," said Audra Chang, summer school director. "We're not going to have them out on the bleachers or anything. We'll put them somewhere. We're hoping it's a place where they can stay the whole five weeks and not be interrupted by construction work."

Roosevelt High School started registering students for summer school last week and the classes are nearly full already, said Karen Matsunaga, the summer school director and a French and Spanish teacher.

The school will share space for its summer school session at Stevenson Middle School this year because Roosevelt is undergoing extensive renovations that, among other things, will tear out the school's parking lot and make it impossible to use the campus.

And while school officials are grateful for the loan of the space at Stevenson and for the renovations, it means they will have to cut the number of courses offered from 27 to 17. No science classes will be offered, while last year students could take biology and physical science. They've also eliminated P.E. and Algebra II, and cut back on the number of sections open for the class they will offer.

"It's making a huge difference as far as what classes are still available," Matsunaga said.

Matsunaga said summer school remains a popular option for children who want to take art, band or foreign language classes during the regular school year and a core class during the summer.

"Freshmen and sophomores can only take one elective, so this helps them find space in their schedule," she said.

Alvin Nagasako, principal at Kapolei High School, said his campus will hold a summer session for the first time this year, mostly to help students make up credits.

"It's tight," he said. "It's hard to get teachers because people really need their breaks."

Kapolei's summer break lasts about seven weeks. To make it easier for students and teachers to attend, the campus is considering trying to schedule evening classes.

Because they are unsure how many classes they will be able to offer, organizers are encouraging students to apply to the Kapolei campus and at least one other school for summer session to ensure they get accepted to one of them.

"It's not easy with so many schools shutting down or scaling back their programs," Nagasako said. "We don't have too many choices."

The difficulty comes not only in finding people to teach, but to organize the summer sessions.

Kailua Intermediate looked for a summer school director for months before it was just recently able to find someone to coordinate the program, said Wade Araki, vice principal at Kailua High and a coordinator of summer school programs in Windward O'ahu.

"Summer school has been becoming increasingly more difficult to run," Araki said. "Ten years ago there were a lot of administrators who would do summer school. Last year I was the only regular, certified administrator doing summer school on the Windward side. There's a combination of things going on, and more and more teachers have been reluctant to give up their breaks."

Araki said teachers earn part-time salaries for summer school and have to teach the same group of students for more than five hours straight.

"As a teacher it's hard to put a group of teenagers in a room and have them sit that long," he said.

With a new teacher's contract that gives teachers a financial incentive to pursue advanced degrees, more teachers are using their summer breaks to return to college.

"That's one of the challenges we have," said Randi Porras-Tang, summer school director at Kalani High School. "You don't want to hold teachers back. It's their time to take classes and get their families together or do a mentoring program."

Porras-Tang said there's one other intangible that makes it difficult to staff summer school: It's hot, and there's no air-conditioning.

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.

On the Web: To find more information on what classes are offered and whether there's a summer school near you, contact your school office or find a list of sites at doe.k12.hi.us.