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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 8, 2006

BOE fires charter schools' Jim Shon fired

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

During an emotional meeting, the Board of Education last night voted behind closed doors to immediately oust Jim Shon as head of the state's Charter School Administrative Office.

In another matter, the board heard impassioned testimony from almost a dozen Kalani High School teachers, students and staff asking the superintendent to reverse a decision to reassign principal Randiann Porras-Tang in the wake of opposition among some parents to the school's implementation of Small Learning Communities.

Shon was not in the audience at the time of the announcement but released a brief statement to the media via e-mail saying it has been a pleasure "working with you in an effort to communicate the wonderful things that are happening with our charter schools."

He could not be reached for further comment.

The board did not say why that vote had been taken, but thanked Shon and expressed appreciation for his service to the charter schools.

Corinna Cornejo, the charter office's communications liaison, called the announcement "very disappointing," and said it could affect schools in the long run.

"In the short term, the charter schools will continue operating as usual," Cornejo said. "The systems are in place to make sure they get their funding, and the school year has begun. But in the longer term, that's unclear. Some of it will depend on who is the next executive director.

"Jim has been there two years and has brought a certain level of stability and direction for the charter schools. As with any organization, when a person in a leadership role is removed, that has the potential to really be disruptive. Ultimately, what we have to stay focused on is making these schools able to educate the children of Hawai'i and not play petty politics with public education," said Cornejo, who is also a charter school parent.

There has been growing contention between Shon and the board, and there were numerous indications over the past months that the board was unhappy with his leadership, including concerns over his lobbying efforts during the recent legislative session to control authorization of new charter schools.

Shon is expected to receive a month of severance pay, and a member of the charter school office may be appointed as early as today as interim executive director while a search for a new executive director is launched.

The charter school network will be consulted in the search, and also asked to provide a list of nominees.

Meanwhile, supporters of Porras-Tang called her reassignment an "outrage" and said it had been the result of discontent among a handful of parents over establishment of Small Learning Communities for freshmen and sophomores at the school.

"This sets a very disturbing precedent for schools statewide," said Debra Nakashima, the school's curriculum coordinator.

Athletic director Gregory Van Cantfort agreed, calling it an "absolutely dangerous" precedent inspired by "inaccurate information, exaggerated generalities, emotional pleas and an explicit threat to the board."

Two sophomore students said they had gained academically from their experiences in the SLCs and found them to be supportive of student learning.

"I couldn't imagine being without SLCs," said student Debra Lee. "It has helped me be a stronger student."

Schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto said before the meeting that she could not talk about the reassignment because it was a personnel decision, but that it was "not made in a vacuum and we're moving on." She also said that policies and procedures were followed.

Also during the meeting, officials announced that five more schools have achieved Adequate Yearly Progress in appeals of their preliminary status, bringing the total number of schools meeting 2005-06 standards up from 95 to 100.

Another 13 schools which appealed were unsuccessful, according to information released by the department.

The new figures move one more school Pohakea Elementary out of sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, while three others improved their status.

With 100 schools out of 282 meeting NCLB standards this year, that brings to 35.5 percent those schools which met AYP compared to 64.5 percent or 182 schools that did not.

The new schools meeting the standards include Ha'aheo Elementary, Wheeler Middle, Kihei High Public Charter School and Kua o ka la Public Charter School.

As well, the department released the latest annual enrollment figures which show that declining birth rates over the past decade as well as other factors are continuing to bring down the number of students in the public school system.

This year enrollment has fallen by 2,121 students, the biggest drop in the past few years. That brings the total number of public school students to 179,234, with 173,473 in regular DOE schools and 5,678 in charter schools. But along with the declining state birth rate that began back in 1997, the public schools have lost about 1,600 students a year to the state's private school network.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.