Saturday, January 19, 2013

Universal Preschool

Back in 1989, I wrote a letter to the Lieutenant Governor strongly encouraging the State to fund preschool education. At that time, the Lieutenant Governor was involved in a study to determine whether universal preschool was economically feasible.

As an Early Childhood Education major in college, I have always been a proponent of early intervention and  equal access to quality preschool programs.  I taught with the federally-funded Headstart program for fifteen years, and I saw the difference it made in preparing students for success in kindergarten and beyond.  The parents also were beneficiaries of this program.  By volunteering in the classroom, observing the teacher, and working with individuals or groups of students, these parents gained valuable skills and strategies for helping their children at home.  Many of these parent-volunteers went on to become part of the Headstart staff, and a number of them went back to school to become teachers, effectively breaking the cycle of poverty for their families.

According to the Hawaii State School Readiness Assessment, about 50% of students enter kindergarten with no preschool experience.  More often than not, these students are also considered economically disadvantaged, qualifying for free or reduced meals. Entering kindergarten lacking the skills of their classmates who have attended preschool, these students are not ready for first grade at the end of the school year, and often repeat kindergarten to hopefully strengthen their chances for success (but that is not guaranteed).

Today, 24 years after I wrote that letter, Hawaii is still one of 11 states with no universal preschool program, However, our Governor has created an Early Learning Council and has proposed funding for preschool beginning in school year 2014-2015.  That is the year when the birthdate for entry into kindergarten changes, and several thousand junior kindergarteners will have to wait a year to enroll.

It is my hope that our Department and the State will allow schools some flexibility in developing preschool programs for their students and not rely solely on private preschools or providers.  As the principal, I would like to work with our community to fund and implement a program at our school to ensure a smoother transition for those going from preschool to kindergarten.  Because we are a military-impacted school, many of our families have a stay-at-home-parent, so a half-day program (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) might be preferable.  I also hope the State will look at revenue sources to make universal preschool self-sufficient down the road.  Georgia's system intrigues me because they use funds from a lottery to sustain their program for all four-year-olds.  Hmm . . . gambling in Hawaii?  I wonder if that would or could be considered.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A New Year and Renewed Commitment

Blogging is not easy and takes more time than I anticipated.  However, it's been a great way for me to reflect as a principal, and with the start of a new year, 2013, I am renewing my commitment to this blog and hoping to reflect more regularly.

Next month, I will be at Hale Kula for ten years!  So  much has changed over this decade, but I believe that my core values have played an integral part in my commitment to the principalship and to the relationships I've fostered over the years. As we begin a new year, let me share three important statements which guide me in the work I do.

Take care of yourself - Everyone at Hale Kula gives 100% and more to their job.  I certainly appreciate their dedication.  However, the job will always be there, and there will always be something else that needs to be taken care of, so at the end of the day, it is important to remember to spend time with family and friends doing things we want to do with people who love and care about us.  We also need to take care of our health by eating right, exercising, and finding time to relax and do the things that make us happy.  This is something I learned while my children were growing up, and I have never regretted my decision to make family my priority.  Now that I am older and my kids are grown, I have more time to devote to my job, but I still make time to go golfing on the weekend, pamper myself with a pedicure, or go out to dinner with my husband.  

Take care of each other - Education used to be a lonely job where the teacher was solely responsible for what went on in the classroom.  Today, we know that collaboration and communication are important skills for our students and for our staff.  Getting along with others is a crucial life skill, and working together, we problem-solve and share successful ideas to improve teaching and learning.  At our school where 99% of our students are military dependents, this is even more important because for many of our families, the school is a critical system of support. This means providing academic, behavioral, and emotional support for those who need it -- children and adults.

Take care of our community - The school is an integral part of the larger community, and our students are taught valuable lessons in caring for others and caring for our world.  Unit studies, for example, share the importance of sustainability or the impact we have on our oceans and reefs or the reasons why we encourage reducing, reusing, and recycling.  We have contributed thousands of canned goods or non-perishable food to the Food Bank; students donated to the Laulima Giving Project; we donated books to the Schofield Acute Care Clinic;  students did chores around the house to earn money to donate to a Hurricane Sandy fund; and students pick up trash to beautify the campus or tutor younger students.  These are just a few examples of how we care for the greater community, to make this world a better place for the future.  I am always reminded of a Native American quote, "We don't inherit this world from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."

Much has changed in the ten years since I was a rookie principal, but one thing hasn't changed.  The people at Hale Kula -- the staff, the students, the families, and the community -- are the reason why I continue to love my job. Happy 2013!