Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 18, 2006

Maui school turns itself around

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

Kihei Elementary pupil Hermie Galiza explains his project on conductivity to Jovena Lee-Agcaoili during a fourth-grade science fair. According to school principal Alvin Shima, Kihei's newfound success is due mostly to efforts by parents and the rest of the community.

CHRISTIE WILSON | The Honolulu Advertiser

spacer spacer

KIHEI, Maui For years, Kihei Elementary School was considered a failing school under Title I and No Child Left Behind standards. But determination and a dedicated faculty and staff willing to embrace change helped the South Maui school turn itself around.

In the past two years, it has become a school in "good academic standing" that has been showered with accolades for its successful reading programs and held up as a model for schools statewide.

"Other schools on Maui, Kaua'i, O'ahu and the Big Island have sent teachers to our school to see how we do things here. Our teachers have been open to share what has worked and what has not," said Principal Alvin Shima.

What has worked is a series of actions that included implementation of a new Harcourt reading program called Collections, along with a support system for pupils in kindergarten through Grade 3 who need intensive help.

"We restructured our instructional blocks to provide more time for our school priorities. We dedicated more resources to support our reading improvement efforts. We developed and implemented a schoolwide reading assessment plan to monitor student progress. We implemented a small-group instruction model to provide children with differentiated instruction," Shima said.

Kihei Elementary also contracted a reading consultant to help implement the new programs, and developed coaches to assist teachers with reading instruction. Shima said a "sacred" morning instructional block was established, with custodial staff agreeing not to run lawn mowers or other noisy equipment that could disturb classes.

Kihei has participated in the federal Reading Initiatives program for the past five years, working its way up from a "Reading Challenge" school to a "Reading First" school.

"Involvement meant that our teachers in grades K-3 had valuable training in early reading, which was critical in achieving our school goal of every child reading at grade level by Grade 3," Shima said. "Involvement also meant that we ... got exposed to current research on best practices on instruction and exposed to scientific research-based reading curricula and intervention programs."

Shima said parents and the community also deserve credit for Kihei's newfound success. PTA president Cindy Lester was responsible for raising thousands of dollars through a fun run to help needy students with lunch payments and to pay for playground equipment, teacher training, field trips and staff appreciation luncheons. She even helps Shima greet kids in the morning and directs traffic.

More than 40 retired professionals who live part time in Wailea are members of the school's Reading Team of Volunteers, visiting the campus twice a week to work with children on reading. Shima said a similar program for math is planned for the new school year.

  • What are you most proud of? The teachers and staff, who Shima said were open to the changes and training that were needed to pull the school out of its "failing" status.

  • Best-kept secret: Kihei Elementary is a Beacon School for Reading, which means schools and educators statewide have sought help for improving their reading programs. "Because of our successes, we were invited to send a team from our school (representing Hawai'i) to present our school improvement efforts in reading at the CORE (Consortium on Reading Excellence) National Leadership Reading Conference in San Francisco in March. ... We have also been invited to present at the National Reading First Conference in Reno this summer," Shima said. "I believe we are the first school from Hawai'i chosen to present at this national conference."

  • Everybody at our school knows: Reading coach Ann Watanabe and curriculum coordinator John White. Watanabe is known throughout the state as a master teacher who trains teachers, coaches, parents and volunteers in reading instruction. White is a former teacher, principal and deputy superintendent of curriculum from Illinois who has obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants for assorted reading programs.

  • Our biggest challenge: A large number of disadvantaged students and non-English-speaking students. Fifty-six percent receive free or reduced lunches and 17 percent are English-language learners.

  • What we need: Better teacher training programs, especially in the area of reading instruction, and more funding for teacher positions. "With the new weighted student formula in allocating funds to the schools, we have had to cut two teacher positions, which means less support for our students," Shima said.

  • Special events: Halloween and winter festivals, family literacy nights, science fair, ho'olaule'a, a winter play, monthly student recognition luncheons with parents.

    Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.