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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:32 p.m., Wednesday, January 28, 2004

School reform must come from within, superintendent says

State Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto wants to give School Community Based Management councils more responsibility over academics and spending and put all schools on a common year-round academic calendar.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Education Writer

State schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto told lawmakers today that Hawai'i's public school system is not working, but she said that reform would only come from schools and the classroom, not from local school boards.

In a rare speech to a joint session of the House and Senate, Hamamoto again distanced herself from a proposal by Gov. Linda Lingle to break up the state Department of Education into seven school districts with locally elected school boards.

But she also said she was encouraged by the apparent consensus among educators, lawmakers and the governor on a new student spending formula, empowering school principals and giving parents more choice over which schools their children attend.

"I am not here to defend the status quo," Hamamoto said. "I am here to tell you we must all work together, to transform public education in these Islands we call home."

Hamamoto asked lawmakers and the public for help in improving public education, and noted that too many students are failing basic math and reading tests. She outlined several ideas:

• Requiring that all students be able to read by third grade, a call backed recently by the Hawai'i State Teachers Association.

• Providing parents with user-friendly report cards.

• Overhauling School Community Based Management councils by giving the councils more responsibilities over academics and spending. Democrats in the Legislature have made a similar proposal.

• Performance-based contracts and pay raises for principals, who would work year-round instead of 10 months. Teachers should be put on 11-month contracts, with 10 months of teaching and a month of paid training.

• A common year-round school calendar.

• Untangling the DOE from other state agencies to give it more control over budgeting, hiring and construction and repairs.

Hamamoto also announced that an education summit will be held March 27 on how best to reinvent public schools.

"Hold me accountable and expect results. But first, you must give me the tools and you must give me the space to do my job," Hamamoto said to applause from lawmakers and visitors in the gallery, including many teachers and principals.

Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Portlock), described the speech as "one of the best PR efforts put together by the status quo in a long time."

"There was a big admission that the system is broken," Hemmings said.

Hamamoto, a former principal at McKinley High School, is a respected voice in the education community, and her speech, just two days after Lingle’s State of the State address, could carry weight among teachers and principals.

Lingle, meanwhile, released more details yesterday of her education reform plans.

The DOE would be split into seven districts, with local boards on the Big Island, Maui and Kaua'i and in Honolulu, Central, Leeward and Windward areas on O'ahu. Each board would have five elected members who eventually would serve four-year terms.

The boards would select principals — who would work under two-year, performance-based contracts — and oversee the academic and financial performance of the schools within a district.

A state standards and accountability commission, with seven members appointed by the Legislature and confirmed by the governor, would set the student spending formula and statewide academic standards. The commission also would issue annual report cards on the performance of each school district.

Commission members eventually would serve staggered four-year terms, and would replace the existing Board of Education.