Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hour of Code op-ed piece - December 25, 2013

This was published in today's Star-Advertiser.  I wanted to share the importance of coding, and the success of  'The Hour of Code" event at our school.  I want to thank Dara Young from the Department of Education's Communication Office for reviewing and adding to the op-ed piece before sending it in.  I am grateful to +Michelle Carlson Colte for her enthusiasm in sharing coding with our students.  Some of these students have really taken off and are creating games and greeting cards.  Basically, they're teaching themselves to code, and my hope is that next year, every student in Hawaii will be participating in "The Hour of Code!"

'Hour of Code' a timely wake-up call for schools
By Jan Iwase

Educating a new generation of our workforce means providing the tools and skills necessary for students to succeed globally in the future. No one can deny the impact technology has had on our lives in recent years, but one of the most overlooked topics in education today is computer programming, or "coding." In fact, recent statistics show that computing jobs will make up 50 percent of all math and science jobs, but fewer than 3 percent of all college students major in computer science.

By 2020, it is estimated there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs and only 400,000 qualified college graduates to fill those positions, according to Most U.S. students do not take a computer course prior to graduation from high school, while schools in China, Australia and other countries are beginning to introduce coding as part of the curriculum in their schools.

More needs to be done to introduce computer programming to American students at the elementary level. That is the premise behind an oath of commitment by Hale Kula's teachers to integrate coding into our curriculum. It is a pledge that earned the school a $10,000 grant from to increase its technology resources and introduce students to coding while they're still in their formative years.

It behooves us as educators to provide our students with this knowledge and know-how wherever their paths may take them. The dearth of a population skilled in coding even caught the attention of President Barack Obama, who recently told schoolchildren, "Don't just buy a new video game. Make one."
Earlier this month, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi and 20 other lawmakers, education leaders and military partners joined our students in celebrating "The Hour of Code," a global event that introduced coding in schools to more than 15.6 million students around the world.

Observing our students code was eye-opening. Coding challenges students to problem-solve and think critically as they complete activities that gradually become more complex. Students communicated and collaborated with their peers, accessed tutorials when they needed more information, started over when they hit a roadblock, demonstrated perseverance and celebrated when they earned a trophy. Many parents shared that their child got home and immediately went on the website to continue their coding activities. One student completed all the levels in one day and went on to other coding sites to build on his newfound skills and knowledge.

Those who are in a position to influence education policy often visit schools and observe students as they share what they are learning in class. This time, however, rather than have our students demonstrate coding for our guests, we had students teach our leaders so they could experience the process of coding. Our students were great mentors, encouraging and guiding adults to learn by doing, making mistakes, asking questions and trying again. In fact, when one of our guests was frustrated, she asked her mentor to "just tell me what to do next." The student replied, "No, try again. Failure is part of learning." She got it and celebrated her success.

And that was just at our school. Imagine how many people were introduced to coding during "The Hour of Code" during Computer Science Education Week in early December. A recent article quoted this: "In a single week, students at schools across the U.S. wrote 500,000,000 lines of code as part of Computer Science Education Week, organizers said. By contrast, it took Google almost seven years to recruit student developers to write just 50 million lines for its Summer of Code program. Microsoft Windows runs on an estimated 50 million lines of code."

Technology is integrated into the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a new set of clear learning expectations aligned to college and careers. Coding allows students to learn key CCSS skills, such as to think critically, problem-solve, collaborate, communicate and create; these are essential 21st century attributes our students need as they move forward to write — or code — their own future.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

On this rainy, dreary day . . .

Well, maybe winter is finally descending on us here in Hawaii.  It's December 1, and it's been raining steadily since early this morning with occasional claps of thunder and bolts of lightning.  Not a good day for our normal Sunday golf.  I guess that means there's no excuse for not updating my blog :-)

It's hard to believe, but the first semester for SY 2013-2014 is almost over.  Three more weeks, and it will be winter break.  This is the time of the year when we complete our Financial Plan for salaried employees for the following school year.  This coming year, due to a decline in our enrollment and the elimination of Junior Kindergarten by the State, we are losing a substantial amount of funding.  This means that we need to decrease the number of teaching positions for next school year, a very difficult task which will mean breaking up grade level teams that may be working well together.

Throughout this first semester, much of my time during the school day (and during non-school hours) has been spent on completing the required tasks for the Educator Effectiveness System, the new evaluation system for teachers.  We also have a new Principal Evaluation System, a new template for our Academic Plan, and a new Strive-HI system for evaluating schools.  Additionally, we are preparing teachers and students for a new assessment tool based on the Common Core State Standards.  So many new initiatives at once!

The other week, one of my principal mentees through #SAVMP shared that when the new principal evaluation tool was shared with them, he was initially anxious and had feelings of inadequacy.  After that first reaction, and after pondering the new system, however, he realized that this was a new beginning, an opportunity to grow as a leader.  I admire his positive attitude!

As for me, I must say that I have been pleased with the attitude of our teachers throughout the EES process.  The conversations about the lesson and teacher reflections about the observation have been positive and collaborative with teachers pointing out areas of strength and areas for growth.  Teachers are working together to develop their Student Learning Objectives and to discuss progress during their respective Data Team meetings.  Non-classroom teachers are focusing on a Working Portfolio which shares what they are focusing on to support teachers as they work with their students.  All of these collectively will improve teaching and learning, although I still question whether everything needed to be rolled out at once.  (FYI, this is a "practice" year as we learn the processes.)

As I reflect on all we've accomplished in these past few months, I am amazed.  The teachers have risen to the challenge and are invested in the EES process to improve teaching to positively impact their students' learning. Additionally, we have committed to implementing the use of technology and Web 2.0 tools so teachers and students can collaborate, communicate, think critically, and create.  We started a Google+ private community where teachers share, ask questions, and discuss education or teaching issues, and students in all grade levels are researching and using Web 2.0 tools to share their learning.

Moving forward, we need to keep our focus on what is important for our students. Teaching and learning must be relevant and challenging so that students have the tools and the desire to create their own future.  I believe that despite the sometimes-rough start, we are on-track to make a difference for our students and their teachers.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Random Thoughts and Reflections

My husband and I just came back from a short vacation to visit my son and his family on the mainland. Although we had a wonderful time, it can be challenging to not fall behind on everything we are asked to do as principals.  This is why I made sure to check my email throughout the day because I really dislike seeing my mailbox filled with unread messages.

So here are some random thoughts and reflections, some of which are a result of my recent vacation.

a)  Our grandson, a first grader, transferred to a charter school this year.  It's a STEAM school focusing on the arts in addition to science, technology, engineering, and math.  In our conversation with the principal, I learned that their charter schools face the same funding challenges as our charter schools in Hawaii.  In order to be competitive, charter schools need to have very supportive, generous parents or it may be difficult to provide the same level of services and the range of programs as state or district-funded schools.

b)  There is a video making its way on social media which shows a high school student testifying against what is happening in education in Tennessee.  This student is critical of the Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluation systems.  Kudos to this student for his thoughtful testimony about what he sees as one-size-fits-all education compromising creative and inspirational teaching.

c)  Last week when I was out-of-town, I assigned two teachers to run our faculty meeting.  From what I understand, they did a fabulous job!  Too often, I am so focused on making maximum use of the allocated time that even the icebreaker activities I plan are "work" and not "fun."  Why can't they be both?  At last week's meeting, our staff participated in a team-building activity, they brought refreshments, and teachers learned to use Google+ to post favorite recipes and share comments.  We now have our own private school community where we can share photos, invite others to events, and post videos, links, or favorites.  What a wonderful way to build relationships and share with those we may not have time to talk with during the busy school day!  (Mahalo, +Michelle Colte+Jerry Bevacqua, and +Lynele Basug!)

d)  Blogging is hard.  Making time to blog regularly can be a challenge especially when we are so busy with all the requirements of our profession.. I agreed to blog regularly when I signed up to be an #SAVMP mentor, but I am guilty of  occasionally having blogger's block or not knowing what to share.  A mentee pondered how she can keep up with her blog without it being an add-on.  I wish I knew how to respond to her because I'm trying to find that balance myself.

e)  I participated as a guest on two Google hangouts recently. Our school will be participating in a global "Hour of Coding" event during the month of December, and I want to learn to code, too!  Technology has enabled me to do things I never thought I would; I am constantly being challenged to get out of my comfort zone and learn/try something new. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Until next time . . . aloha!

This is such a sharp contrast to Hawaii, but this photo is evidence of the beauty and wonder of nature all around us.   
My husband and son are fans of American Restoration on The History Channel so we googled their location and took a tour of their facility.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Inspirational and Committed Teachers

I had the pleasure of attending yesterday's Hawaii State Teacher of the Year ceremony, and I was impressed with the honorees!  There were seven nominees, one from each district.  Hale Kula teacher, Teresa Cramer, was the Central District nominee, and she is truly deserving of this honor.

These teachers have taught between 5 and 12 years at their schools.  They are still relatively young educators, but their passion, commitment, and leadership are already evident in the way they have positively impacted their students and the school community.  Sustainable gardens, AVID, science fairs and science projects, relevancy and project-based learning, partnering with the community, a hula halau -- these are some examples of how these teachers have engaged their students and inspired them to strive high.

Recently, Yong Zhao was in Hawaii for a Schools of the Future conference, and an interview with him was printed in the local newspaper.  He speaks out against the standardization of schools and advocates for schools "to capitalize on a technological era that allows students to deeply explore subjects they care about and share their ideas with the world."  That is what Mrs. Cramer does at Hale Kula and what the other District Teachers of the Year are doing at their schools.  I find it somewhat ironic that while there appears to be a move towards standardization with implementation of the Common Core State Standards, adopting a common curriculum for language arts, and assessments which will compare our students with others around our country, our District Teachers of the Year are focusing on the process of learning rather than just content and skills.

As a school leader, I believe that one of my most important responsibilities is to support innovation in education.  We need to keep the spark alive in teachers because they are the ones who will ignite the spark in their students.  Our teachers are encouraged to think out-of-the-box as they address the unique needs of our students and our school community.  Many of our successful initiatives at Hale Kula such as co-teaching classrooms, project-based learning, blended learning, and service clubs were initially proposed by teachers based on the needs of our students. Innovation is valued, and new leaders emerge when their successes are recognized and validated.

 Congratulations to the State and District Teachers of the Year!

Matthew Lawrence from Waikiki Elementary is the Hawaii State Teacher of the Year for 2014.  He is at the far left.  The District Teachers of the Year are shown with  Superintendent Matayoshi and Governor Abercrombie. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Never Enough Time

Recently, principals in our state took a survey, and one of the questions was how much time we spent on schoolwork per week.  Not surprisingly, 78.4% said they spend more than 60 hours per week on-the-job with 19.8% spending 70-80 hours and 11.7% working more than 80 hours each week. Ask any principal, and we all say that while we may not be physically on-the-job, school-related issues dominate our thoughts during waking hours and may even be the cause of sleepless nights.  The principal is where the buck stops, and everything, including educational decisions, increasing academic expectations, budget woes, student discipline issues, safety concerns, facilities problem, etc. ultimately falls on the shoulders of principals.  It's no wonder that many school districts are having difficulty recruiting and retaining principals!

As an "experienced" principal for eleven years, I have empathy for anyone entering the profession today.  If there is one thing we can all use more of, it is more time, especially time to reflect at the end of the day and time for meaningful discussions with colleagues. With all the additional requirements placed on us, it is imperative that principals make time for reflection and to connect with others professionally.

When I was first appointed,  I remember keeping a daily journal, a gift I received as part of the New Principal Academy.  I had good intentions, but writing about what happened every day got to be pretty tedious.  That certainly was not helping me to reflect, and gradually, I was journaling less and less.  Instead, I found myself using the time driving to and from school to prepare for and to reflect on the day's activities. This really helps to focus me, especially when the day is filled with challenges.  At home, doing "routine" chores like cooking, washing dishes, or doing the laundry provides me with additional time to reflect, and later in the evening, I can catch up on tasks I didn't have time for during the day.

Time to connect with other principals is such an important part of the job.  Professional dialogue and meaningful collegial discussions can be validating for principals and provide opportunities to improve our craft. We also need colleagues we can call to commiserate or celebrate with.  Only a fellow principal can understand the challenges of the profession, especially nowadays when there are so many demands of the job. Talking through problems really helps!  I've also discovered another source of support recently via social media.  Reading blogs and tweets has helped me to realize that educators everywhere are facing similar problems, but principals continue to do whatever we can to improve teaching and learning at our schools.  Recently, I joined a community #SAVMP or School Administrators Virtual Mentoring Program. What a terrific opportunity for me to learn from other principals and to share ideas so we can improve as school leaders! On paper, I am mentoring three principals, but the truth is, we are learning from each other. I wish that more principals had this experience, and I am hopeful that this program will continue.

I believe that making time to reflect and connect professionally has helped me survive as a principal.  Despite all the challenges, I can honestly say that I still love what I'm doing and the people I work with, and I continue to learn something new every day.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Reflections on the First Quarter

Fall intersession is over, and like always, I lament that time went by so quickly.   I have good intentions of cleaning my office first (how is it possible to collect so many papers in such a short time?) and to get other required tasks out of the way so that I can really reflect on how we are doing as a school and on how I am doing as a leader.

It doesn't seem possible that back on July 1, our school looked like this.

Today, this is what that same area looks like.

To say that the $33.2 million project has been a challenge is a understatement.  Our greatest concern is making sure that teaching and learning is not negatively impacted by the noise, the dust, and the inconveniences of the construction project. So far, everyone has been accommodating - the contractors, the community, the staff, and our students and their families.  We are truly grateful for funding for this project, and I, personally, am learning a lot about construction!  It is hard to imagine that in such a short time, the contractors have made so much progress on our new buildings!

An unexpected challenge for us this year is our low enrollment and subsequent loss of funding.  For some reason, our actual enrollment is far lower than projected.  Presently, our enrollment is 100 students fewer than last school year, and our geographical boundaries have not changed.  This lower enrollment count meant returning a large sum of money to the State since funding is based on a per pupil Weighted Student Formula. Adding to this shortfall is our loss of Title I funds this year due to a change in how Title I schools are identified in our Department. We are managing, but we will have to tighten our belts for the remainder of this fiscal year.

New teacher evaluations have been challenging.  Although this is a "practice year" with no negative consequences, we are taking the new requirements seriously and are doing our best to put systems in place so everyone can be successful.   With 74 teachers being evaluated in five different components which all require principal support and documentation, I find myself constantly reflecting on the most appropriate strategies to help teachers help themselves.  My philosophy is to give our teachers roots and wings - roots to ground themselves and provide a strong foundation so they can grow and spread their wings, to have confidence in themselves as continuous learners so they can be effective teachers. The challenge is in knowing each teacher and in asking the right questions so I am not telling them what I want them to work on; rather, teachers are reflecting and taking responsibility for their own professional growth and setting their own goals for improvement. With accountability and evaluations a reality, my responsibility as a principal is to ensure that teachers have every opportunity to improve their craft and to positively impact students.   This is where I feel I can have the greatest influence - as an instructional leader.  It is the main reason why I went into administration.

This is my eleventh year at Hale Kula, and frankly, my responsibilities as principal are more demanding now than they were ten or eleven years ago.  I believe the public expects more from our schools - not just in Hawaii but across the nation -- and we need to respond by producing students who can be competitive in this 21st Century world.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Effective and Ethical Users of Technology?

General Learner Outcomes for our Department of Education are the overarching standards for all students in our schools.  GLO #6 is "Effective and Ethical User of Technology."  What, exactly, does this mean for today's students and how can we ensure that our students use technology effectively and ethically, not just in school but out-of-school as well?

In June 2013, Apple announced that the LA School Board of  Education had approved an expenditure of $30 million for the first phase of a 1:1 rollout of iPads.  Within one week of distribution at high schools, several hundred students had figured out how to bypass the built-in security and began using programs which were supposed to be blocked on the devices. LAUSD put a halt to student use at home until they can figure out what to do.

This blog, "Why LA's iPad Rollout was Doomed" shared important issues that must be addressed: hurrying to implement without addressing potential problems; limited teacher training and professional development; responsibility for the iPads when students are carrying them from home to school and back; and the cost of iPads especially when they will be probably be outdated in a few years.

More importantly, though, is how these devices will be used in a 1:1 initiative.  Is it teacher-directed or student-directed?  Are we using the power of the Internet to enable students to take responsibility for their own learning, or are we putting curriculum on-line and expecting students to be more engaged because the lessons are on a mobile device or laptop?

As an elementary school principal, I am an advocate for the use of technology in instruction.  In fact, through a Department of Defense Educational  Activity grant, we are piloting a blended learning program where fourth and fifth graders are assigned a laptop for the year so they can access their instructional program on their at-home days as well as in-school days.  It is amazing to see the growth and confidence of these students when given the opportunity to think critically, collaborate, communicate, and create, especially when they are given choices in what to research and how to share their learning.  It has been a learning experience sprinkled with frustration, however, when we realize that some of the best resources or learning tools are blocked by the Department.

In this day and age, many students use mobile devices to communicate with friends or to play games.  However, when we limit use of school devices to approved programs, we are losing an opportunity to guide students in using their mobile device as a teaching/learning tool and in making decisions regarding credible resources.  Additionally, 1:1 devices should offer students choices on how to share what they learned.  Most of the time when we hear "1:1 initiative," it means that every student has a device with pre-loaded instructional content and assignments submitted on-line as opposed to using paper/pencil.

Our ultimate goal is that all students show evidence that they are self-directed learners, community contributors, complex thinkers, quality producers, and effective communicators as well as effective and ethical users of technology (General Learner Outcomes).  If we want students who are college and career ready, we need to "Teach kids to be their own Internet filter" as this blog shares.  It shouldn't start when students begin high school, however.  We have a responsibility to start this conversation in elementary school by teaching what "plagiarism" is, by having students search for "reputable"  information related to their topic, and using tools like EasyBib so students reference the source of their information when researching.  (Check out this presentation by a group of fifth graders; their individual notes as well as reference materials are a requirement for this project and are linked to their presentation.) When we teach students the importance of being an effective and ethical user of technology, and when we give them tools so they can research to discover or find answers to their questions, students will be more engaged and willing to share their learning.

Hopefully, other school districts won't make the same mistakes as LA Unified School District when rolling out a 1:1 initiative.  Although putting a device in every students' hand is a great idea, ensuring that the devices serve the purpose for which it is intended is the bigger issue.  We want students using the devices to think critically, collaborate, communicate, and create because these are the skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century.  Being an effective and ethical user of technology means more than just following district rules regarding computer or Internet usage; it means that students have access to and can make decisions about their own learning using all the resources available to them.  

#technology #SAVMP - NSJ&J

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Daily Attendance and Chronic Absenteeism

This is an update of a post I wrote last year titled, "Chronic Absenteeism."  The State has made increasing attendance at schools a priority, and all elementary schools' attendance data is a part of our annual Strive HI evaluation. First quarter ends this coming week, and we will be analyzing attendance data, in compliance with our goal to decrease chronic absenteeism from 16% to 11%.  Last year, 16% of our students were chronically absent, defined as missing more than 15 days in the school year.  In other words,  16% of our students missed almost one whole month of learning whether excused or not.

This year, our counselors are taking the time each month to send letters to parents when students have five or more absences.  Some parents who received such a letter have expressed concern,  especially when they notified the teacher and the absences were excused.   We know that students need to be in school in order to maximize their learning opportunities.  The State policy and our school procedures are clear; after 5 or more absences, parents must be notified.  An absence is an absence, whether excused or not.

As a school, we are implementing a variety of programs to reverse this trend including incentives for those who have perfect attendance for the quarter, informing parents more regularly, and asking for suggestions from our school community.  However, our data suggests that these incentives and procedures are not having as positive an impact as we had hoped.

As a state, we are implementing the Common Core State Standards which has been adopted by 45 states. These standards are more rigorous and expectations are more challenging regarding what students should know and be able to do. Hopefully, this will make it easier for families when they leave Hawaii for another duty station, but missing too many school days may be detrimental to students.

Because we are a military-impacted school, our families have different challenges that affect school attendance.  With no extended family here on-island, a parent may not have the support when a child gets sick (and there's no way to get the student to school) or the soldier is deployed or in training.  When the soldier comes back from deployment or for R&R, families want to spend the time together or take a trip back home to spend time with their extended family.We realize that this is valuable time, and even if we would prefer students to be in school, we understand the importance of reunification especially when a parent has been in harm's way.Additionally, since our families are transient, we need to make sure that the loss of instructional days does not result in learning gaps which can impact students now and in the future when they enroll in a new school.

Besides implementing incentive programs, we need to send a consistent message to parents about the importance of students coming to school regularly and keeping up with their lessons.  This is why we are being diligent about sending letters to inform parents that we are concerned.

We can also use technology effectively for the purpose of ensuring that students do not fall too far behind.  For example, we have encouraged all of our teachers to post their assignments as well as learning resources on their class websites.  We have licenses for programs such as KidBiz3000, SOAR,and Measuring Up Live! which are web-based, and other resources are available on our library webpage which students can access anywhere, anytime from any computer.  We are moving towards cloud-based computing via google apps; students will be able to work on their assignments and keep in touch with their teachers even if they are not physically in school.  Our Blended Learning program is providing us with resources we can use with our fourth and fifth graders, and we should share similar resources for the other grade levels as well.

Our message to our parents is this:  we understand the challenges of being a military family, but we need to work together to ensure that our students -- your children -- will be ready for the next grade level whether they remain at Hale Kula or move to another school in our state, our country, or the world.  As a school, we need to have better procedures so parents understand that we are a team and that keeping up with schoolwork is essential. This also means that parents need to set aside time during vacations or emergency leaves so students can complete their assignments to ensure that they don't fall behind.

Our goal  is to decrease chronic absenteeism at our school from 16% to 11%.  It will take a collaborative effort to accomplish our goals, but we are determined to do all we can to reach our target so that all students continue to progress and have the skills and dispositions to be successful.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Safety First!

Ensuring the safety of our students and staff is our most important responsibility.  We know that accidents do happen, but whenever an unsafe situation occurs such as a tree branch ready to fall, or wet hallways due to the rain, or a wobbly desk, we make sure we report it right away so our custodians or District maintenance team can take care of the problem.  Likewise, we are required to have safety drills on a monthly basis so we can practice and work out any kinks in our procedures.

This year is particularly challenging due to the construction project and the closure of one area of our campus.  Prior to the beginning of school, our Safety Team made adjustments to procedures, and we even had input from the Fire Department to ensure that our exit plans were acceptable.

Despite our best efforts, however,  unexpected events do occur.  Last school year, we had an incident of a possible shooter walking around our base, and students were locked down in their classrooms for a large part of the day.  Fortunately, everything turned out okay, but we did work closely with the military to revise procedures and to be better-prepared should a similar situation occur again.

I bring this up because there is no such thing as being too safe.  Recent events remind us that we need to be proactive and to update or revise our emergency plans  if necessary.

Next week Thursday, September 26, our school will be having an evacuation drill.  We will walk in an orderly manner to the Teen Center which is within walking distance but far enough away from our school to ensure the safety of our students and staff.  The walk is off-campus, and we want to be sure that all parents understand the importance of practicing for these kinds of drills.

For the past few years, the military has been our partner during these evacuation drills.  They assist us by observing our drill from the moment we sound the alarm, throughout our evacuation to the Teen Center, and back to the school.  They take notes, talk with students and adults along the way to ensure that they know the procedures, and make recommendations on how we might improve our evacuation plans.

Parents, it is important to make sure your child is in school on the day of the drill so he/she can practice along with the rest of the class.  We are not just practicing our evacuation plan; we are also ensuring that our communication plan is efficient and that parents and the community are informed in a timely manner.  We want you to trust that our school is prepared to do the best we can to ensure the safety of every child.  To that end, we ask for your cooperation as well.  If you've changed your phone number recently or the emergency contacts you listed at the beginning of the year have moved away, please send a note to the school so we can change your records on our database.  It is important to have correct information on file because our mass messaging system uses the parent's primary phone number to alert parents.

Safety first!  That is our most important rule at Hale Kula!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Changing Mindsets

We had parent-teacher conferences this past week.  We have two weeks of conferences at Hale Kula. The first is held during the first quarter between parents and teachers, and the second one is student-led, and all students select projects or assignments to share with their parents.  Often, these projects are included in individual e-portfolios.  P/T Conferences are well-attended, and usually, we have about 95% participation.

This year, we decided to try an on-line system for parents to sign up for dates and times.  In the past, we had a system which we called an "auction." We sent out notices to parents, and they returned it with their prioritized choices.  On the day of the auction, we all gathered in the cafeteria, we called family names, and teachers met to decide on a date/time for the conference for each child.  This system worked, but we were looking for something more efficient.

We signed up for a free account.  Every classroom had an account and parents were able to go on-line to sign up.  Teachers received emails to indicate which parents had registered so they could follow up.  Teachers were able to manually register any parent who had not signed up, and most parents did attend their child's conference.

I adhere to the philosophy that if we use technology, it should make our work more efficient.  Several teachers shared that they want to go back to the old system because they felt parents were used to the old system.  However, that is certainly not an option I'd like to consider.  We will make adjustments such as sending the notices out earlier or having computers available if parents want to sign up after dropping up or picking up their children. We will ask for feedback and suggestions, but I strongly believe that once we make signing up on-line the norm, it will definitely make the process easier for everyone.

Looking back, I realize how much our staff has grown as far as technology is concerned.  A few years ago, when I asked teachers to send me documents via email, some of them had never done it and had to be taught.  Today, universal screening is done on-line and teachers have instant access to their student data; attendance and report cards are submitted on-line; grade levels have discussions and share ideas via edmodo; classroom teachers regularly update their websites so parents are regularly informed about what is going on in their classrooms; teachers and students are sharing or participating in global projects; and we use Google Apps for Education to share files, collaborate on projects, and communicate with others.

This wouldn't have happened without trust and positive relationship-building.  It is easy to say that things are going satisfactorily so "why change?"  However, as school leaders, we need to be open to change which can make our work more efficient.  This may take encouragement and support for some teachers, but we cannot give up.  There are many more expectations on schools today, and having systems in place which saves time makes sense.

As a school leader, I depend on my staff to keep me updated, and I encourage them to try out new tools or resources and to show how they can be used in the classroom.  This year, our librarian is hosting "Tech Tip Thursday" where teachers are sharing how they use different tech tools.  This never would have happened a few years ago, but today, teachers are eager to share new ideas or new tech tools, and it is so refreshing to see them leading and learning from each other!

Friday, September 13, 2013

SAVMP - A Terrific Opportunity for Professional Growth

I read a Tweet about SAVMP - School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program and clicked on the link to find out what it was all about.  I learned what was required to be a mentor, and I was intrigued.  I met the qualifications:  I am a principal with more than three years of experience; I have a professional blog and a Twitter account; and I was willing to mentor new principals.  However, I hesitated.  Would I be an effective mentor?  Do I have the time? What if I have nothing to offer my mentees?  I did not jump at the opportunity, but I did mention my dilemma to our librarian/media resource teacher, and she encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone.  I decided to take a leap of faith and sign up to be a mentor.  There was no guarantee, after all, that I would be selected.

Well, I am now a virtual mentor to Natalie, Scott, and Jeff who live in Montana, Washington, and British Columbia. We are learning together . . . and I am certainly enjoying the experience.  I felt my mentees' excitement when they shared about their first days of school, and it was coincidental that two of them showed the same video to their staff!  (I viewed it and applauded their choice.)

What I'm learning from this experience is that there are so many opportunities for educators to grow professionally.  The SAVMP community has outstanding members, and I enjoy reading other blogs and realizing that many of us share similar challenges as we seek to positively impact education, not just at our school, but globally as well.  I hope to share my experiences with my principal friends, and maybe I'll be able to convince others to join me as mentors or mentees in this virtual community.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Opportunity to Model Math Problem-Solving

We have been struggling with the Common Core State Standards for math.  Our teachers have been studying and trying to align their mathematics instruction with the CCSS since the standards were released a few years ago.  However, implementation without gaining a full understanding of the CCSS with its Mathematical Standards of Practice led to some frustration. After analyzing our students' math scores and reviewing released items from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), we knew we had to change the way we teach mathematics at our school.

We have been concerned about mathematics instruction for several years now.  Working closely with Dr. Julia Myers, a former parent at our school, we identified areas of need and planned professional development sessions for groups of teachers, grade levels, or the whole faculty. Over the years, we implemented Lesson Study, discussed ways to use children's literature to teach math, followed the Standards-Based Change Process for math, and had numerous school-wide workshops and professional development sessions focused on math. (In fact, I just went back to my old files from 2007-2008 and retrieved an activity we used on Math Misconceptions because it so happens that I'm presently reading a book titled Math Misconceptions.)  Despite all the different professional development activities we planned for our teachers, however, teaching and learning of mathematics has not made much of a difference at Hale Kula as evidenced by our fluctuating scores on statewide assessments or national screening tools.

This disparity between what I envisioned for math instruction and what was actually happening in classrooms was troubling to me.  I believe that the majority of our elementary school teachers feel more comfortable teaching language arts than they do teaching math, and although many have changed their math instruction to include the use of manipulatives or technology, we weren't seeing the results in student math performance.

Our math instructional coaches and I had honest discussions after we reviewed grade level student work for a problem-solving activity we assigned earlier this month.  After much honest reflection, I realized that my idea of problem-solving was not the same as the teachers', and that it was my lack of clarity in providing guidance that led to the disconnect between what I was expecting and what was actually assessed.  What could I do to correct this disconnect?

Fortunately, we had a school-wide Wednesday meeting scheduled for that week.  I decided on my plan.  After sharing brief observations about the grade level problem-solving tasks and student work samples, I read the description about the CCSS Mathematical Standard #1 from a Math Coach's Corner poster.  I asked the teachers what stood out for them after hearing this description, and they shared phrases like "stand back," "let them grapple," "use questioning strategies," and "provide support without giving the solution away."  In our effort to have students "feel" successful, we were depriving them of the opportunity to "make sense of problems and persevere in solving them."

We then assigned a problem, an SBAC-released extended response item, and teachers got to work.  I felt proud as I walked around, watching them as they worked, and noticing the strategies they used.  Teachers were attacking the problem from different vantage points; some were using the calculator on their phone while others were thoughtfully figuring out what they needed to do to come to a solution.  The discussion afterwards amongst four teachers, all from different grade levels, was equally valuable.  Teachers were clearly demonstrating the Mathematical Standards of Practice by justifying their process, questioning others about their reasoning, using mathematical vocabulary, communicating clearly about their process, and most importantly, they were making sense of the problem and persevering!

Modeling problem-solving by having teachers be the students was invaluable.  They saw the importance of the process and having students participate in discussions.  They realized that while the answer is important, having students explain their thinking is more important because we need to see where the errors are and what concepts might need reteaching.  Additionally, teachers realize that a good problem allows multiple entry points and that we need to give students time and encouragement to persevere.

In their reflections, teachers shared ideas on how we can improve problem-solving at Hale Kula. We look forward to continued growth to "Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them."


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Aloha, Dad

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about why I became an educator, and I shared that my parents inspired me.  They gave me roots to ground me and wings to pursue my passions.

Yesterday, my Dad passed away.  We will miss him dearly because he was a wonderful person who gave so much to others.  He is an example of unconditional love, never asking for anything in return.  As I reflect today on how he has impacted me, I realize how much Dad taught me, not through lectures or words, but through his actions.  What I have learned influences how I interact with others and how I approach life.

Treat others well - Dad loved being around others, and he instantly made strangers feel comfortable. If he had negative thoughts, he never shared them aloud.  Dad was assertive when he needed to be, but I never heard him raise his voice at anyone.  He was respected because of how he treated others.  As a school leader, this is how I strive to treat others.

Work hard - Dad never finished high school, but he rose through the ranks at his company through hard work.  My siblings and I all worked in the pineapple fields during the summer months, and that experience taught us the value of hard work.  Mom and Dad never had to convince us to study hard in school so we could go to college.  That summer experience alone made us realize that we wanted something better.  My Dad never had the opportunity to go to college, but he made sure all of his children had that chance, and he was proud that we are all successful in our chosen professions.

Serve others - At every school we attended, Dad served as a PTA officer, usually as the President.  He coached youth baseball and was a Lions Club member for 52 years.  Ever since I can remember, Dad was involved in the community.  Today, my siblings and I all give back to our community, through our professions and as volunteers, and we will continue to honor Dad by serving others.

Enjoy life - Dad loved fishing, golfing, growing and sharing vegetables from his garden, going to sports events, vacationing in Las Vegas, cooking his special chicken hekka and Filipino chicken, and get-togethers with his extended family.  He taught me that it is important to make time for fun. I have great memories while growing up of going to the beach, throwing ball and playing games outside, and running races (which Dad always won, even after giving us a big lead).  In recent years, I enjoyed golfing with Dad, and our last three trips to Las Vegas were with my parents.  Too often, we are so committed to our professional responsibilities that we forget to make time to enjoy life.  Today, I work hard, but I also make time to have fun and to relax.

A few days before Dad's surgery, my husband and I took my parents out to dinner.  We had a great time, reminiscing about the past and sharing our hopes for the future. Dad was so hopeful that the surgery would be a success, and we talked about him going fishing or golfing again. Things don't always work out as we hope, but for me, the wonderful memories of Dad and the way he lived his life will forever influence me as I strive to positively impact those around me.

Thank you, Dad, for all you taught me.

I'm glad Dad was able to celebrate with me at a luncheon for the District Principal of the Year award in April.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Welcome back, Kolea!

Today, I spotted my first Kolea of the season as I was waiting to tee off by hole #1 at Mililani Golf Course. The arrival of these birds always amazes me!  Frankly, I wasn't aware of these birds when I was younger, but in recent years, I've discovered more about these remarkable creatures.  Kolea are territorial, going back to the same location every year.  They live in Hawaii from the time they arrive in August until late April or early May when they leave to spend the summer months nesting in Alaska.  The amazing thing is that these small birds fly non-stop, almost 3,000 miles to get to Alaska and 3,000 miles back to Hawaii! 

Every time I see Kolea around the school, at parks, or the golf course, I am reminded about the lessons I can learn from these remarkable birds.  Just as the Kolea are focused and know where they want to go, I need to be a focused leader.  Every year, we work together as a school community to create our Academic Plan with a few targeted goals. By working and learning together, success will be more achievable.    

I cannot imagine being a bird as small as a Kolea, flying that kind of distance without stopping until reaching my destination!  It takes perseverance and withstanding challenges to be successful.  Likewise, as a school, we need to persevere despite the challenges that confront us. I feel disappointed every time I read negative comments about our educational system because I know how hard our teachers and staff work to support students so they can be successful, not just in school, but in life.  Teaching and learning is not just about the academics; rather, we need to give students opportunities to develop characteristics such as perseverance, to understand that anything worth doing will take effort and hard work.  This year, our teachers will be evaluated using the Educator Effectiveness System, and it will be a challenge.  However, by persevering and supporting each other, all of us -- teachers and administrators -- will improve as educators. This will lead to more effective teaching and learning at our school, and that is -- and will always be -- my goal as a school leader.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Vision for Hale Kula

Recently, I took a risk and signed up to participate as a mentor in  the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program . #SAVMP creator George Couros shared that he expected to get 35-50 requests to participate.  He got 350!   I was assigned three administrators to mentor - from the United States and Canada -  and I look forward to learning with my mentees as we go through this school year together.

Last week, we were asked to blog about "Why I Lead" or "Why I am an Educator."  We shared our blogs on a Google+ SAVMP mentor community, and it is evident that everyone is committed to learning while leading.  What an impressive group of committed school leaders!

This week, George suggested we blog about our vision for our school.  As a school leader, we need to be the keepers of the vision, always bringing decision-making back to the core of our beliefs about our school and where we are headed.

When I was interviewed for the principal position at Hale Kula back in 2003, I was asked about my vision for the school.  I remember sharing that because most of our students are military dependents, my vision was that they would embrace the unique culture of our State while getting an education which would prepare them to be successful wherever they went after leaving our school.  This remains my vision for Hale Kula despite the changes in policies, changes in standards, and changes in personnel at the school, District, and State levels.

I must admit that with the emphasis on statewide assessments and making Adequate Yearly Progress, it was sometimes challenging to focus on our vision.  Part of this lack of focus was my fault, as the principal, in setting a goal every year to make AYP.  I realize that test results are only one measure of success, and I am relieved that our State was given an exemption to No Child Left Behind.  (Now, we will be measured on student growth as opposed to a "magic" score of 300 to be considered proficient.)

My vision is to have every student be successful when they leave our school so I want Hale Kula to be a place where:
  • everyone is included as part of a learning community, and every person is valued for their strengths.
  • everyone strives to be the best they can be, and we support each other to achieve our goals.
  • there is a genuine attitude of caring for each other.
  • learning is meaningful and relevant to the real-world.  Students apply skills and strategies they have learned to complete relevant assignments such as writing a letter to a class in another country, reading to find answers to self-generated questions about a topic they're interested in, or solving relevant math problems such as comparing which store offers the better value on a product.  
  • students and teachers collaborate on projects and assignments and take responsibility for their own learning.
  • students and teachers care about our community and strive to make a difference now and in the future.
Some of these kinds of teaching and learning are already evident at Hale Kula.  For example, as part of their social studies unit on communities, our third graders brainstormed ways to help families who were devastated by Super Storm Sandy.  Our fifth grade Hope Garden is an example of sustainability, and students lead tours for the community during Earth Day activities.  Additionally, our sea urchin project is a great example of how our students are making a difference.

Steve Jobs stated, "If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don't have to be pushed. The vision pulls you."  I am still working on something exciting that I care about, and my vision for Hale Kula continues to pull me every day! 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why Am I an Educator/Lessons Learned

I come from humble roots.  My mom was a secretary who became a full-time mother while we were growing up.  My dad worked his way up from laborer to a respected supervisory position at Dole Company. Education was emphasized in our home, especially since my dad, the oldest child in his family, was obligated to quit school after his eighth grade year to go to work.  When I look back to my early years, I  marvel at how my parents, with very limited resources and no real training, were able to instill in my four siblings and me a deep desire to learn and to appreciate what we had.  We went to the beach, took trips around the island, sang and put on performances for our parents, caught the bus to borrow books from the library, made carnival games out of boxes and invited neighborhood kids to come and play, and went hiking down the gulch to pick guavas and lilikoi. It was a great way to grow up!

I decided to become an educator when I was five years old.  I loved going to school, and teaching, to me, seemed to  be the most wonderful job!  Throughout my school years, I never wavered from my goal to become a teacher, and it is a decision I have not regretted.  All of my siblings are successful professionals as well, all in different fields.  I think this is a tribute to our parents who gave us roots to ground us and wings to explore our own passions.

I taught for 27 years until I went into administration.  Right up until my last day in my classroom, I loved teaching!  My philosophy of teaching and learning grounded me with every group of students I worked with: student-centered, hands-on learning, differentiating, parent involvement, building personal relationships with each child, problem-based, inquiry-based learning, and the importance of giving students choices.  I had never aspired to be an educational administrator, but a chance question by my then-principal - Have you ever thought about going into administration? - started me on a new journey.  

Today, I am in my eleventh year as the principal of an elementary school.  To be honest, I never thought when I accepted the position that I would be here this long, but I continue to love what I do and can't imagine being anywhere else.  Through the years, I have grown as a leader, and I would like to share a few lessons I've learned along the way:

a)  We cannot lead if no one is following.  A leadership title does not guarantee anything. People will follow a leader they trust, and trust is earned.

b)  Leadership is a shared responsibility, and every person has something to contribute. Create opportunities for individuals to collaborate so their strengths can be appreciated and leadership skills can be cultivated.  

c)  Diverse viewpoints make for richer discussions. We will not always agree, but through respectful discussions, our win-win solutions are often better than what was originally proposed.

d) We all make mistakes, but when there is a trusting relationship, our staff will be comfortable about sharing their concerns with us.  It's okay to admit that we may have erred, but it's also okay to be firm in our decision.  The principal is ultimately responsible, and as long as we have a reasonable explanation,  most people would accept our decision.

e)  Never stop learning.  Just as we want our students to be life-long learners and to pursue their passions, we need to model that behavior.  I've learned so much from everyone around me including those in my virtual communities.

f)  Support each other.  Leadership can be lonely, and having a support group -- colleagues, spouse, family, friends -- is important especially after a particularly difficult day..  

g)  Play!  We need to take time to smell the flowers and enjoy life and to take care of our health and well-being.  When I'm golfing with my husband on the weekend, I try not to think about work and just appreciate the opportunity to do something I enjoy.  We all need to play!

I look forward to continuing my learning as a member of this #SAVMP community!  Thank you for this opportunity to participate in this new venture!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Making Connections and Building Relationships

School year 2013-2014 is off to a great start!  This is going to be a challenging year due to a new teacher evaluation system, a new way of determining school proficiency, and new expectations for school administrators. It was important to get the school year off to a positive start!

A  number of our teachers were busy this summer, attending conferences, trainings, and participating in professional development opportunities.  Our Blended Learning team was fortunate to be able to attend the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in San Antonio; others attended AVID training; one of our teachers attended the Exxon Phil Mickelson Teacher Academy for Math and Science and another attended a training at the Library of Congress on how to use primary resources in our teaching and learning.   Additionally, teachers attended the Kamehameha Technology Conference and others participated in training for Achieve 3000 or Thinking Maps. I mention this, not just to share the professionalism of our teachers in trying to improve their instructional practices, but to show how we needed to connect all of these trainings to ensuring that teaching and learning at Hale Kula is meaningful and engaging.

With the implementation state-wide of the Educator Effectiveness System, teachers will be evaluated, based on five components.  Our goal is for all of our teachers to be successful because we know that an effective teacher in the classroom has the most significant impact on student performance and student achievement. Therefore, we needed to make connections and to realize that by working together with our colleagues, we have a better opportunity to ensure that all of our students and teachers are successful.

Planning our first day agenda takes a lot of thought.  I wanted to make sure we had time to make connections between the Educator Effectiveness System and other initiatives from the State, District, Complex, or our school while building relationships at the same time.  With a relatively large faculty (about 75 teachers) and a lack of designated school-wide professional development days for the past few years, new hires often did not have opportunities to meet or work with other grade level teachers.  For this reason, it was important to use our administrative time wisely.

Earlier this summer at the Kamehameha Tech Conference, we had the pleasure of hearing and meeting Nirvan Mullick who produced a video called "Caine's Arcade."  I watched the video several times and shared it on my personal Facebook page. I knew that I wanted to share it with our teachers, too.  "Caine's Arcade" was the perfect video to discuss problem-solving and the attributes of a problem-solver, and while we all agree that Caine is bright and creative, demonstrates perseverance and definitely is a critical thinker and problem-solver, as educators, we don't give our students these kinds of opportunities in the classroom.  I considered having material available so teachers could work in teams to create something out of cardboard, but a cardboard challenge would take too long.  What kind of activity would be shorter, a little less open-ended, but still engage our staff to work in teams while problem-solving?

Our librarian/media resource teacher shared The Marshmallow Challenge with me, and I knew it would be just right for our purpose!  Teachers worked in teams of 4 (I put the groups together ahead-of-time), and part-way through, we removed at least one teacher from each group and had them switch with another teacher.  We had puzzled looks, and teachers shared that they thought they had done something wrong when we asked them to switch groups.  Some didn't want to change because they were comfortable with their group, and they were actually a little upset.

After reflecting on the experience, we had teachers complete a google form to collect comments.  Our librarian-media resource teacher used a Smilebox slideshow to document feedback as well as a Wordle to capture feelings of the participants during The Marshmallow Challenge.  (Note - the larger words were mentioned more often.)  One of the reflective questions we asked was, "How did it feel when you were asked to move to a new group, and how did you fit in to your new group?"  We wanted teachers to make the connection between how they felt as a "newcomer" in the group and how our students feel when they transition into our school.  (Each year, we have several hundred who transition after school begins.) I loved this teacher's comment:  "When I got switched to a different group, I thought about kids who come into our school as new students. It made me reflect on my experiences as a teacher welcoming new students."

After this uplifting, fun activity, our teachers were more engaged and participatory during our mandatory training.  Continuing to build on the new relationships they were forming, teachers worked in groups, jigsawed the required assignments, and shared what they had read to ensure that everyone got the same information.  They then posted comments, questions, or feedback on sticky notes on a canvas.

This reminds me of something our AVID trainer said to us during our training this summer:  Why do we leave the "fun" activities till the end of the day or the end of the week IF we have time.  Perhaps if we mix it up and occasionally give students engaging assignments at the beginning of the day, we would have fewer tardy students since they wouldn't want to miss out on an enjoyable activity!  

Today was our first day with the students, and it went well!  Here's hoping the remaining days are just as good!


Friday, July 26, 2013

Starting Soon - SY 2013-2014

It's the end of summer; teachers return to work next Tuesday, July 30, and students will return on Monday, August 5.  Where did my summer go?

This will be a challenging year for us.  Our $33.2 million construction and renovation project  changes the landscape of our school grounds.  One whole section will be closed down as workers begin constructing a new administration and a ten-classroom two-story classroom building.  This means changes in the recess schedule, recess fields, and a location for our two physical education teachers to conduct classes.  It may take longer to get from one place to another due to barricades while construction takes place, and we will have to get used to the dust, noise, and traffic while ensuring that teaching and learning continues.

Additionally, the recently-ratified teachers' contract places new expectations on teachers as well as administrators.  This is a "practice" year where all of us will be trying out the components of the Educators Effectiveness System to improve teaching and learning in our Hawaii public schools. We are learning together, and my responsibility is to ensure that our teachers receive the support they need to be successful and to grow professionally.  Right now, I'm working on an agenda for the first few days; I'm doing my best to be creative and engaging while modeling the use of various technology or Web 2.0 tools which teachers and students can use to collaborate, communicate, think critically, and create.  We have our theme for the year - "Making Connections; Building Relationships."  Hopefully, we can put all the pieces together in a coherent way that makes sense and positively impacts teaching and learning at Hale Kula.

We have a large staff with several new hires, so in our welcome letter, we gave them an assignment based on a project our teachers shared after returning from the ISTE conference.  (Thank you @Bryan Doyle for the idea!)  Right now, our Media/Technology Coordinator  is working with our custodial staff to  help them upload their summer assignment.  It has been so much fun to see everyone's unique summer story in 6 words and 1 picture, and we'll be sharing this slideshow at our Welcome Back Breakfast next Wednesday.  I'm sure it'll be a great way to start off a new school year!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Principal Evaluation E-Portfolio

This year, after many years of negotiating, principals are being evaluated using a comprehensive evaluation form.  We have always been evaluated, but now, the State is using an evaluation system which measures performance on multiple measures including student achievement.  We are still waiting for more information, but in the meantime, we're asked to share evidences of what we've done this past year to improve our school.  We will also be developing a long-range plan and setting annual goals to reach those plans.

For the past couple of years, I've been meaning to start an ePortfolio to document my personal growth as an educational administrator.  I never quite got started, though, even if our students were keeping their own electronic portfolios using weebly  We even had first graders with their own weebly page, and it was amazing that some of them got the hang of things so quickly!  I guess I was waiting for the right opportunity to get going!

I have a meeting with our Complex Area Superintendent in a couple of weeks, and I am finally starting an ePortfolio.  I needed some tutoring -- I tried to learn things on my own, but there were little glitches that I didn't know how to rectify -- but now, I'm enjoying it!

As principals, we need to model what we want our staff and students to do.  Last year, I encouraged our teachers to create a class webpage, and most of them did.  They found that updating their assignments and notes to parents on-line kept them organized and led to better home-school communication.

Last year, I learned how to blog, and after that, I created several different blogs to communicate with parents:  Hale Kula Highlights, Hooray for Hale Kula Staff, and Hooray for Our Volunteers.  I recently created a blog to document our $33.2 million construction project.  This year, I am learning to create a web page on weebly, and while it hasn't been as easy as I thought it would be,  I'm proud to be learning something new!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It's Official! Our Groundbreaking Ceremony

Monday, July 1 couldn't come quickly enough!  We knew that once the groundbreaking ceremony took place, construction on our new buildings would begin.  But first things first.

We are so appreciative of the work by the Groundbreaking Committee to plan a wonderful event which combined the actual ceremony as well as fellowship and food!  This was the first ceremony we have planned that included so many distinguished visitors.  Most of the other school groundbreakings include the State and City elected officials as well as Department of Education officials. In addition, we invited military leaders as well as our Congressional delegation and officials from the Washington D.C. Office of Economic Adjustment.  I am most appreciative to the military liaison and the US Army Garrison Protocol Officer for making sure we did not offend anyone by not following proper protocol.

Our custodial and office staffs were also instrumental in ensuring that the ceremony would go smoothly.  The custodians stopped their room cleaning to work in the yard.  Even if our school is 54 years old, we take pride in the outward appearance of the grounds.  The custodians trimmed back overgrown plants, weed whacked the whole front area, and the school looked so spiffy!  The office staff did all the "little" things that were necessary to make the whole event go smoothly -- RSVPs, registering the special guests and visitors, preparing the library for the reception, and a myriad of other details.  We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful staff who exemplify our vision, "Working, learning, and succeeding together!"

Even a delay due to a dirt spill which closed down a couple of lanes on the freeway couldn't dampen our spirits!  The groundbreaking ceremony included Governor Abercrombie, US Senator Hirono, BG Johnson, Superintendent Matayoshi, and other military and local leaders as well as our private partners.  Here is a photo just prior to the actual groundbreaking.  (For more photos of the event, click on the hyperlink to the slideshow.)

From left:  Col. Whitney (US Army Garrison-Hawaii), Gary Willis (Office of Economic Adjustment), State Senator Michelle Kidani, State Representative Lauren Cheape, Brigadier General Pete Johnson (25th ID Deputy Commanding Officer), US Senator Mazie Hirono, Governor Neil Abercrombie, State Senator Clayton Hee, Principal Jan Iwase, State Representative Mark Takai, Dexter Kubota (Bowers & Kubota, project managers), Vern Inoshita (Design Partners, Inc., project architects)

Now that the planning/designing/contracting phase is over, the actual construction work begins.  We will be documenting our project from start to finish via a blog titled, "Hale Kula Elementary School - Our $33.2 Million Project!"  While we were researching the history of our school (which was built in 1959), we found very little information.  With the availability of social media and other tech tools, we want to make sure this project is documented and shared with any and all who are interested.  This is a way for anyone connected with our school -- now or in the past -- to follow our progress.  It will be with a touch of nostalgia for those who attended Hale Kula when it was pretty  new back in the 1960's or 1970's.  At the completion of this project, the school will be transformed.  In this 21st century, our students deserve a learning environment which builds on the 4C's -- collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creating.  Add in the 5th C -- choice -- and our students will be successful whether they are here in Hawaii or elsewhere in the United States or the world!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

One Year Ends -- Another Begins

I am learning so much from other educators around the country and here at home.  Reading tweets and blogs or visiting and talking with other principals and teachers has provided me with ideas on ways to improve our school and my practices as principal.  It has also given me much food for thought as we continuously reflect on our practices and search for ways to make education more relevant and engaging for our students and teachers.

I recently read a wonderful graduation speech by Chris Lehmann who is principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  I love to read about his school, and he inspires me to keep believing that we can make a difference, that our students can achieve greatness if we give them the guidance and the opportunity to create their own future.  This week, four of our teachers will be attending the International Society for Technology in Education along with 20,000+ other educators, and Chris Lehmann is being honored as ISTE's 2013 Outstanding Leader of the Year Award.  Also notable is the fact that one of our own teachers, Rachel Armstrong, is being honored as an Emerging Young Educator.  Rachel is our fifth grade Blended Learning teacher, and the success of our program is due to our great team which also includes Rebecca Linford (fourth grade teacher), Megan Cummings (Instructional Media Resource Teacher), and Michelle Colte (Librarian and Media Specialist).  Together, they have created a program which will continue to grow and provide us with ideas on ways to improve teaching and learning at our school.

Construction will begin shortly on our "new" school, and we can't wait!  I find myself looking at buildings more carefully to see how space is being utilized and how furniture is configured. I'm also looking at how art enhances and adds a special touch to the buildings. Recently, I attended a training at the Hawaii Convention Center and spent time each day admiring the Children's Courtyard where colorful artwork is displayed.  I took a photo and sent it to the architects to see if we might be able to exhibit our student work in this way.  I also took lots of photos from my grandson's school where art is displayed prominently throughout the school.  What a wonderful way to share the creative talents of our students!

Left - Students painted scenes of what is special about Hawaii.
Right - A mural made of tiles at my grandson's school

Finally, when I attended a training at Mililani High School, their principal, Fred Murphy, took me on a tour of their new building.  One idea we can implement right away is the school's "Did You Know?" which shared the many accomplishments of their students and staff -- honors they've received, championships they've won, competitions they've excelled in -- from academics to athletics to the arts to service and citizenship.  We can do that at our school, too, and we will!  We have much to be proud of at Hale Kula, and we need to share our accomplishments with our school community.

No time to rest . . . got to get back to work!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Reflecting and Re-energizing

One of the great things about summer is that it provides me with the time to reflect and re-energize.  This past year was a blur; it went by so quickly, and for the most part, I believe we were successful.  We made progress on our academic goals, and we were able to communicate with our school community more effectively through the use of social media.  Our Blended Learning pilot program showed us that students can excel and be self-directed learners if they are given instruction, guidance, and choices, and we are slowly transitioning to becoming a Google school with more on-line collaboration and sharing of files by our staff and students.  Additionally, our design plans and cost estimates were approved, we received the funding we requested, and very shortly, groundbreaking on our new buildings will take place.  We can't wait!

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend two conferences.  I am so grateful to Kamehameha Schools and AVID for hosting these conferences during the summer so educators can attend without having to leave their classrooms.  The Kamehameha conference focused on educational technology, and a number of our teachers were able to attend.  Titled, "Imagine," the conference focused on the possibilities for ourselves and our students if we open our minds to new ideas.  I was blown away by Nirvan Mullick's presentation and his video, Caine's Arcade.  As I listened to Nirvan and heard him share the story of a little boy and his creativity, a statement resonated with me.  "Every child is gifted."  Our job as educators is to find that gift and to nurture it.  I also believe, as Nirvan does, that every child deserves a "gifted" program where students are given opportunities to learn in an enriching, hands-on, collaborative, project-based learning environment.  I have always believed that such an environment has limitless potential to engage students and give them the confidence to explore their passions, and I would like to see our students have more of these opportunities in the coming school year.

AVID was originally developed to close the achievement gap and to make the college dream available to all students regardless of their station in life.  Students are told to "Dream Big" and to believe in the college dream.  From its humble beginnings in 1980, the program has expanded from a high school program for a few students to today's program which spans elementary, middle, high school, and post-secondary education and includes thousands of students.  The training reinforced our commitment to eventually implement AVID complex-wide.  The challenge of our site team (thanks, Tami, Lynele, and Keith!) will be to share how AVID fits in nicely with all of the initiatives at the State and school level.  We have some great ideas for introducing AVID to our teachers!

The one challenge for us will be to take what we are learning about technology in education with the essential components of AVID.  As more and more classes and students create ePortfolios, and as we expand what we've learned about Blended Learning to implement components in the "traditional" classroom, binders and planners may soon be outdated.  However, WICOR (Writing to Learn, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Reading to Learn) are applicable for ALL students if we want them to be successful in life, and we need to ensure that students receive rigorous instruction, learn to ask and answer higher level questions, work with others, and learn organizational skills.  This is particularly important for our highly transient military population.  If our students "Imagine," "Dream Big," internalize and implement AVID strategies, and learn to use technology as a tool for learning and creating, they can be successful wherever they go in the future.  That is our goal at Hale Kula - to prepare our students for success in LIFE!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Personal Reflections

At this time last week, my husband Randy and I were in San Antonio, Texas for my youngest son's graduation from Air Force Basic Military Training.  It was such a proud moment for us, particularly because this is a path he chose to follow after several years of drifting at the university and at community colleges.  When he made the decision not to go back to school, it really bothered me.  As an educator, I wondered if we had done something wrong.  Our son graduated with honors from high school, but he did the minimum required and wasn't particularly motivated to study.  It was evident from the start that he didn't enjoy his college classes.

As a mother, it was hard to see my son unmotivated, and although he had a part-time job, that certainly wasn't a career path.  When my son decided to join the military, I was torn.  As the principal of a school with 99% military dependents, I saw the challenges these students and families face.  Is this what I wanted for my son?

Long story short, my son was accepted into the Air Force, and as the time drew near for him to leave for Basic Military Training, we were all supportive.  We realized that our son had been counseled by his recruiter and he had been reading about what to expect at BMT.  He got advice from others -- his family and friends, his brothers' friends, and from strangers -- and he listened.

The 8 1/2 weeks of Basic Training went by slowly.  Not being able to communicate with him except through snail mail was a challenge in this electronic age.  We looked forward to receiving letters on Thursdays -- several at a time since they were all mailed on Sunday.  We wrote diligently and shared little anecdotes about what was happening at  home.  Frankly, it had been years since I'd written an actual letter; most of our communication with faraway families and friends is through email, text, or Facebook.

My husband is retired, and he would spend his days reading blogs or checking out information on what our son was going through and what he could expect in future weeks, then he'd tell me all about it.  Would our son survive?  Early on, our son mentioned a website and a FB group called AFWingmoms.  That was one of the best resources for us.  There was a group for my son's TRS and FLT where we could share information as well as celebrations. That was such a wonderful support group!

We breathed a sigh of relief when our son said he had done well in all aspects of BMT.  Our plane tickets, hotel and car reservations had been set weeks before, and we would be there for his graduation.  We arrived in San Antonio on Wednesday, and we arrived at Lackland AF Base for the start of graduation ceremonies on Thursday at 6:00 a.m.   Yes, we were early!  The Air Force graduates approximately 600 Airmen each week, and everything ran like clockwork!  The Airman's Run was impressive.  In 8 short weeks, these individuals had bonded and were running together, in formation, chanting as they passed.  Randy and I held a banner for him, something we hoped would stand out amongst all the other banners.  It worked; Jordan saw it and so did others in his flight.

We finally got to tap out our Airman after the equally-impressive Coin Ceremony and at his graduation the following day.  We knew he would look different with his buzz cut, but that wasn't the only difference.  Jordan now stood taller and prouder.  He walked with a purpose.  It is evident that his experiences at BMT had helped to build his confidence in himself.  He now had a whole new set of buddies; they had his back, and he had theirs.  He talked about going back to school, courtesy of Uncle Sam.  He looks forward to completing his training (he is now at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri where they were under tornado watch the other day) and to receiving his duty station assignment.  

I write this because the traditional schooling did not work for Jordan and for others like him.  Yes, he was always in college prep classes and he earned good grades in school, but those classes and that kind of learning wasn't meaningful to him.  He needed to work with his hands, to do projects and to research things that were relevant to him.  I think back to his sophomore year in high school when he and his friends built their own computers from parts they purchased on-line or in stores to get the best price.  I saw him figure out what was wrong when there was a problem with his computer and fix it himself.  I should have realized that perhaps college wouldn't be his path, and it disappointed me when he dropped out.  Well, it appears that he is taking a different path, and the structure and expectations of military life are what he needed to get back on-track.  I have no doubt that this time, he will succeed in getting a college degree.  We are so proud of our Airman and look forward to seeing where the Air Force takes him!