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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 25, 2006

First school bell rings in changes

 •  Not everyone starts classes on Thursday

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

NEW GRADES FOR REPORT CARDS

Hawai'i's elementary schools will all adopt new standards-based report cards. Here's an explanation of the new letter grades:

ME: Meets with excellence. Demonstrates excellent achievement of the standards.

MP: Meets proficiency. Demonstrates acceptable achievement of the standards.

N: Approaches proficiency. Is approaching acceptable achievement of the standards.

U: Well below proficiency. Does not demonstrate acceptable achievement of the standards or provides no evidence.

NA: Not applicable at this time. These standards have not yet been addressed.

SC: See teacher comments.

Source: Department of Education

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UNIFIED SCHOOL CALENDAR

Here are key dates for the 2006-2007 unified calendar:

July 27: First day of school for many students, but check with individual schools for exact date

Oct. 2 to 6: Fall break

Dec. 21 to Jan. 10: Winter break

March 19 to 30: Spring break

June 7: Last day of school for students

Source: Department of Education

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With the start of the new school year just days away, teachers, students and parents should all expect changes when the first bell rings Thursday.

  • For the first time in more than a decade, nearly all 180,000 public school students will be on the same schedule under the new unified calendar.

  • All elementary schools this year will have standards-based report cards and junior kindergarten, both of which began in some schools last year.

  • New high school graduation requirements will take effect for incoming freshmen.

    Veralyn Ulep is about to start her senior year at Waipahu High, which had been using the traditional 11-week summer calendar. Along with about 100 other schools that used to operate under the traditional calendar, Waipahu High is switching to the unified year-round calendar.

    While Ulep said she is excited to start her senior year, she had become accustomed to long summers, so the shorter seven-week break has been a difficult adjustment.

    "Some of my friends really like the idea of having longer breaks during the school year. But for me the shorter summer means fitting a lot of things in," like work, school club meetings and outings with friends, she said.

    Waipahu High principal Patricia Pedersen said she welcomes the unified calendar, especially in a community where parents had struggled with elementary, intermediate and high schools all on different schedules.

    "It'll help parents in organizing and structuring the things they want to do as a family," she said.

    In the Waipahu complex, Waipahu High was on a traditional calendar last year while almost all of the other schools were on some version of a year-round calendar.

    "Families had scheduling conflicts and other planning issues," she said.

    NEW SCHEDULE

    With the shorter summer, Pedersen said it's been a mad dash to get everything ready for the new school year. It barely felt like a break, she said.

    The new schedule means shorter summers, a weeklong break in October and longer winter and spring breaks.

    Junior kindergarten, which was piloted in select schools last year, will launch statewide this week.

    Students who do not turn 5 until after Aug. 1 can enroll in junior kindergarten, which is designed to provide extra help so late-born students can master crucial skills.

    Junior kindergarten won't be implemented the same at all elementary schools, so check with individual schools for specific methods. For some schools, junior kindergarten students will be integrated into the same classroom as kindergartners and they will likely move on to first grade with their classmates, too. But in other schools, students may be in their own class and may undergo another year of kindergarten if they need an extra year to master the skills.

    Pat Dang, principal at Kapalama Elementary School, piloted junior kindergarten at her school last year using an integrated kindergarten model.

    "We used a group model and teachers utilized various strategies to help the junior kindergarten child," Dang said. "It's an excellent idea. It takes away the stigma of a child being a repeater if they do need that extra year of kindergarten," she said.

    Dang said parents should communicate with teachers and administrators to create a smooth transition to junior kindergarten. She said the program works best when parents get involved in every step of the child's learning and helps him or her progress through the various skills.

    Also, all elementary schools are expected to adopt new standards-based report cards after some campuses opted not to use the cards last year, citing a variety of problems.

    The DOE continues to work out any possible kinks in the report card, said department spokesman Greg Knudsen.

    Last year, six schools chose to retain the traditional report cards after the Hawai'i State Teachers Association complained that new report cards were cumbersome, took long to complete and were vague.

    The standards-based report card replaces traditional A, B, C grading with Meets with Excellence and other grades (see box).

    The new report card does not yet affect secondary schools.

    GRAD REQUIREMENTS

    At the high schools, incoming freshmen will be greeted with a new set of graduation requirements. The main change is the number of credits a senior needs to graduate 24 as opposed to the current 22.

    The new graduation requirements apply only to the 2010 and later graduating classes.

    One change in the graduation requirements is a half-credit Personal/Transition Plan, which replaces the old Career Guidance course. Each student, for all four years of high school, will progressively complete a post-high school transition plan.

    Farrington High principal Catherine Payne said at her school the transition-plan requirement will be integrated into a twice-monthly advisory period students must attend. Other schools may choose to integrate the requirement in different ways.

    "It will really help to get the students more focused on planning for their future," she said.

    Payne said the requirement will help with goal setting and getting students to plan past high school.

    And for students who would like to work toward the Board of Education Recognition Diploma, which requires 25 credits, an extra credit can be earned by completing a senior project. That could include a senior portfolio, a science project made with the help of a university professor or some other assignment deemed appropriate by the school.

    Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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