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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hilo school has what it takes

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

This is the graduating fifth-grade class from Ernest Bowen deSilva Elementary School at the end of the 2006 school year. Parents seek out this school for their children, with 35 percent of the school's enrollment coming from outside the district.

DeSilva Elementary photo

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Where: 278 Ainako Ave., Hilo, Hawai'i

Phone: (808) 974-4855

Principal: Dennis O'Brien, two years

School nickname: Super Bs

School colors: Yellow and white

History: When the school opened in 1959, the plan was to name it Ainako. However, during construction, the district superintendent, Ernest Bowen deSilva, who was once a teacher and a principal, died, and the school was renamed in his honor. The first principal was Muriel Isherwood. The original campus included an office, cafeteria, four classroom buildings and a play field. Since then, a library, kindergarten playground, covered court and botanical garden have been added.

Testing: Here's how DeSilva Elementary students fared on the most recent standardized tests:

• Stanford Achievement Test: Listed is the combined percentage of pupils scoring average and above average, compared with the national combined average of 77 percent: Third-grade reading, 85 percent; math, 92 percent. Fourth-grade reading, 84 percent; math, 88 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 81 percent; math, 78 percent. Sixth-grade reading, 98 percent; math, 96 percent.

• Hawai'i State Assessment: Listed is the combined percentage of pupils meeting or exceeding state standards, and a comparison with the state average: Third-grade reading, 64 percent, compared with state average of 50.2 percent; math, 37 percent, compared with 30 percent. Fourth-grade reading, 79 percent, compared with state average of 58.1 percent; math, 55 percent, compared with 32.5 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 57 percent, compared with state average of 43.5 percent; math, 41 percent, compared with 24 percent. Sixth-grade reading, 69 percent, compared with state average of 47.5 percent; math, 26 percent, compared with 27.6 percent.

Computers: 90

Enrollment: 367 in K-6

Low-income enrollment: 27 percent

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HILO, Hawai'i Ernest Bowen deSilva Elementary School doesn't rest on its laurels even though it has consistently achieved state benchmarks on standardized tests and is considered one of the state's best public schools.

"All segments of the school community have embraced the vision of excellence in education," said principal Dennis O'Brien.

These traits and the school's desire to continue to improve make it a popular school that is sought out by parents for their children, with 35 percent of the school's enrollment coming from outside the district, O'Brien said.

The school's park-like grounds and forest backdrop on three sides of the campus add to its allure, he said.

But the school may face a challenge to maintain and improve with the new weighted student formula adopted by the state recently that could result in the campus losing $126,000 in funding, O'Brien said.

"With less funding support to schools that are succeeding, you'll have a leveling effect in a direction you really don't want," he said.

But the school has a plan to maintain its gains and continue to make progress. It will focus its resources on children in grades K, 1 and 2 to be sure they can read and do math at a third-grade level by the time they are in third grade, O'Brien said.

"I think most of the research shows that if children are not able to do that by grade three, usually they will not catch up," he said.

While the school is focusing on reaching standards, the PTSA and teachers want to develop more well-rounded students and expose them to things they will not get in school. To do that, they have developed the Super B Ed-venture, an enrichment afterschool program offering Spanish, basketball, Hawaiian, 'ukulele and robotics. The program begins Sept. 12.

"If we can expose our kids to these so-called enrichment activities now, it's going to spark their interest when they're offered these things in high school," he said.

The PTSA is financing the program and charging a small fee to students. Next semester it hopes to add ceramics and Mandarin Chinese to the program, he said.

In connection with this, O'Brien said he wants to convince teachers to spend the last hour and a half on Fridays on enrichment activities.

"We want to give these children a reason to enjoy coming to school," O'Brien said.

  • What are you most proud of? Being part of a tradition and culture of strong parent participation that started when the school opened, O'Brien said.

  • Best-kept secret: "Our teachers, to a person, view their career as a calling," he said. "They don't view it as a job. So they'll do whatever it takes to succeed."

  • Everybody at our school knows: Lester Uchima, cafeteria manager. His lunches are so special that high school students come back after graduation to have a last lunch with Mr. Uchima, O'Brien said.

  • Our biggest challenge: Continuing to exceed Hawai'i's education benchmarks with the bar rising every three years and funding reduced.

  • What we need: Playground equipment.

  • Projects: Teachers and Hilo businesses have supported a wide array of school projects, including a fifth-grade effort to collect soda cans and water bottles to raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims, O'Brien said. The students had to plan, contact the businesses and execute the project. They raised $400.

  • Special events: Super B monthly award and beautification day.

    Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.