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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ready for 1st day of school

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Waipahu High School teacher Erik Tamura, left rear, gets help in painting his bookcases in the school's colors: blue and gold. Tamura, who teaches English, says the students suggested the shelves needed painting.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Here are key dates for the 2006-07 unified calendar:

Today: 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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English teacher Karen Shinjo cut "Peacemakers" signs in her Waipahu High School classroom yesterday. The school's Peacemakers pledge to reject violence.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Tammy Ing, left, gets help from Vanessa Hong in setting up her classroom. Ing and Hong are fourth-grade teachers at 'Aiea Elementary, which has been hosting workshops for educators from other schools to work on improving test scores.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Sherri Shioi, a first-year social studies teacher at Waipahu High School, pulls copies of "A History of Hawaii" textbooks as she prepares for the start of the new school year.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The smell of fresh paint will greet ninth-graders in coach Erik Tamura's classroom at Waipahu High School today as the freshman class is introduced to the first day of the next four years of their lives.

Forty-nine of the state's public schools open today on the first official day of the new unified school calendar. Yesterday, Tamura was scrambling to spruce up the dingy bookshelves in his classroom, with the help of several dedicated students. The idea came from the kids, and he told them if they helped he'd pick up the paint.

"They were getting kind of ugly," Tamura said of the shelves that the group was dabbing with blue and gold, the school colors. "And it was the students' idea. They said it would look nicer."

With a short summer, teachers were rushing to get everything ready for a new year as 175,000 students began returning today to public school classrooms throughout the state. Another 5,000 or so will return to charter school classes throughout the summer.

For some teachers, like Farrington High's Bebi Davis, it means she's still finishing up a summer school course at the same time she's readying her room for the new year.

"I've gone in a couple of times during the summer," said Davis, who won a national Milken Award for outstanding teachers last year.

But the courses she took also meant new ideas for a teacher who is always pushing to improve.

"It gets you to reflect on your philosophy as to what are you going to do differently," she said. "I believe in making changes. But I make sure I don't make just any change. It has to have some scientific base to it."


Preparations for the state's 13,000-plus teachers have ranged from coming in a week or two early to plan year-long projects, to taking specialized courses to improve skills, to spending hours over the last weeks studying their student dossiers, much of it on their own time.

"One day is just not enough," said 'Aiea Elementary second-grade teacher Jocelyn Vargas. She said she has probably spent 48 hours getting ready. "I had to take some time during the summer to set up."

Vargas has been setting up her classroom and arranging student desks, copying hundreds of pages of handouts, creating labels and nametags, designing bulletin boards and going through all of the students' files to familiarize herself with their past performance, report cards and backgrounds.

"You want to be familiar with the students before they come in," she said.

'Aiea Elementary also has been hosting all-day workshops for teachers from Palolo and Kalihi Elementary schools with Edison Inc., as the three schools come together to continue work on boosting scores even more. All three made their annual benchmarks under the federal No Child Left Behind Act this year, but are working to keep improving.

"What was involved today were some terrific universal reading strategies that have proven effective, so that's what we did," said 'Aiea principal Ed Oshiro, whose school will host another day of workshops today.


At Waipahu High, students Dana Fujiwara, Juliana Powell and recent graduate Nathaniel Garcia were pitching in to finish painting Tamura's shelves in time for them to dry so he could restack the books that had been scattered over all the desks.

Meanwhile, some of the experienced teachers were helping first-year teachers launch their careers.

One of the newcomers, University of Hawai'i graduate Sherri Shioi, acknowledged she was nervous.

"I've had no experience at high school, and I'll bet they're all going to be towering over me," she said.

Carl Matsumoto, the Waipahu High science teacher who was Hawai'i's second national Milken Award winner last year, was helping other younger teachers set up their rooms, and generally settle into their first day of the rest of their career.

"Some teachers are doing house-cleaning," Matsumoto said. "A lot of supplies are being moved. Some teachers are moving classrooms, and a lot of computer equipment is being moved around. And we're all helping out the first-year teachers because they're all afraid."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.