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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, May 15, 2005

Teacher support stressed in restructuring

 •  Edison says past troubles won't follow it here

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Education Writer

Hawai'i teachers under heavy pressure to raise student test scores can expect intensive training in curriculum management, new teaching strategies and a lot of positive reinforcement, according to private educational assistance companies that have been hired to help.

Jarrett Middle School teacher James Kealoha speaks with parents in Palolo about their role in improving their children's test scores.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

The increased focus on standardized testing means teachers must set well-defined goals for their students and have clear paths for achieving them, the companies say.

"They should expect a lot of support in the areas of professional development, in literacy, in math, and in instructional leadership areas," said Dr. Vera Vignes, Pacific regional director for the National Center on Education and the Economy.

NCEE, which uses a school improvement model known as America's Choice, is among three firms given final state approval this month as part of a "restructuring" plan meant to help 20 Hawai'i schools at a cost of $7.9 million for the first year. Four more schools will be restructured with help from regional school superintendents. The work is expected to begin with detailed assessments of school needs, and to take three years or more to complete.

Vignes, former superintendent of the Pasadena Unified School District, stressed that the plan is to form strong partnerships with the seven O'ahu and Big Island schools that NCEE will work with, rather than take them over.

The company will work mostly with teachers and school staff, but it should quickly become clear to students that something has changed, she said.

Lia Atiga holds on to her child, Luamasina, 1, as she signs in for a recent parent-outreach meeting in Palolo, a vital part of restructuring.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

"From the beginning, I hope, they'll begin to see that everybody has high expectations for them, and that everybody can do well," Vignes said. "That's where you start. You let the youngsters know that you believe they can do the very best."

The company has worked with hundreds of schools nationwide, including several in Hawai'i. But this will be the first time NCEE assists with the restructuring reform model, Vignes said.

The changes are being triggered by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and Hawai'i is among the first states to implement restructuring. The 24 schools were targeted because student test scores have consistently not met state standards in math and English.

Another firm, ETS Pulliam, plans to work with six schools on O'ahu, Maui and Moloka'i.

Company vice president Leslie Pulliam said a common misperception may be that students in schools designated for restructuring simply weren't learning.

24 schools get outside help

Here is a list of the schools that will receive outside help and the providers they have been assigned to. Included is the amount of the private companies' contract with the DOE for one year.

Edison Schools Inc., $3,918,320, will work with:

• Palolo Elementary

• Jarrett Middle

• Dole Middle

• Central Middle

• 'Aiea Elementary

• Kahului Elementary

• Pa'ia Elementary

The National Center on Education and the Economy, $2,018,188, will work with:

• Kealakehe Elementary

• Hilo Intermediate

• Pahoa High and Intermediate

• Na'alehu Elementary & Intermediate

• Kea'au Middle

• Waipahu Intermediate

• Wai'anae Intermediate

ETS Pulliam, $2,005,540, will work with:

• Wahiawa Middle

• Hana High and Elementary

• Maunaloa Elementary

• Moloka'i High

• Moloka'i Intermediate

• Nanakuli High & Intermediate

State complex area superintendents will work with:

• Waiahole Elementary

• Hau'ula Elementary

• Kahalu'u Elementary

• Nanaikapono Elementary

Source: Board of Education • Extra help for all students who are struggling to get up to grade level.

"I think the issue here is, how much can a teacher teach to mastery in the amount of time they've been given to work with kids in the classroom?" she said. "We have standards that are absolutely essential to learn, they serve as the foundation for future learning, (and) we also have some standards that are probably more like 'nice to know' things.

"So our work centers around helping teachers understand what are the most critical, essential standards that you must master, and how can we make the most of the instructional time to make sure all students master those standards. And then if we have time, we move on to those that are more in the category of 'nice to know.' "

The long-term goal is to make sure schools can sustain the improvements, Pulliam said.

Edison Schools Inc. has been selected to work with seven schools on O'ahu and Maui. The company directly manages more than 150 Mainland schools, and has assisted many others. Edison manages 22 schools under contract with the Philadelphia school district alone.

Officials here stress that they are following a different model, where the company will assist, rather than manage, schools.

Edison is adopting a more "consultative approach to working with (Hawai'i) schools," said Erin Moore, Edison's vice president for development.

The company's "Alliance" model draws on the most effective practices in its management approach, but rather than bringing in its own staff and materials, calls for working with schools' existing staff and curriculum to drive student achievement, she said.

Edison will have a Hawai'i-based team to work with schools, provide teacher and administrator training, and use a benchmark system to carefully track student progress. "We can really target the intervention strategies and approach," Moore said.

Palolo Elementary School principal Ruth Silberstein said she expects the company to take a closer look at curriculum, teaching strategies and personnel. "There will be very heavy data analysis to look at the gaps and whatever needs to be met to help the students achieve," she said.

What to expect

While changes will take different forms at the 24 schools slated for restructuring, DOE officials say that parents and students at all the schools can expect to see:

• A more rigorous curriculum aligned to the state standards in English, math, social studies and science.

• More frequent testing as schools make a conscientious effort to track individual student progress.

• Extra help for all students who are struggling to get up to grade level.

While under corrective action, Palolo has already worked extensively with the Los Angeles County Department for Educational Reform — a service provider that will not be doing restructuring in Hawai'i — and Silberstein feels it has improved the quality of instruction at her school.

She welcomes more intense intervention under restructuring. "I think it's going to be a very positive move, positive and supportive," she said. "I see wonderful things happening."

It won't be easy, though, and will require the help of parents and community members. "We'll be sweating it out together, pushing at the target areas," she said.

Teachers will have to have more training and attend more conferences, although they will not be forced to put in extra hours. "There's a way to try to do it that doesn't infringe on anyone's right and does reflect the collective bargaining agreements," Silberstein said.

Officials are drawing up specific restructuring plans for each school, and the changes are to take effect before the start of the next school year.

Education writer Treena Shapiro contributed to this report. Reach Johnny Brannon at jbrannon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.