Today is a perfect day for me to reflect on the first two weeks of SY 2014-2015. School was cancelled due to the impending hurricanes - Isella and Julio. Right now, the sun is shining here in Central Oahu, but earlier, we had rain and some wind. Nothing like the Big Island, though, for which we are grateful. Hopefully, Julio changes direction and misses our islands.
I have been the principal at Hale Kula since 2002, and each year has brought new learnings and experiences for me. This year will be no exception. Last year was challenging with the implementation of a trial Educator Effectiveness System, the new evaluation system the teachers agreed to as part of their last contract negotiations. The Department wisely enlisted feedback from principals and teachers and revised the system this year so it is more manageable and can truly make a difference in improving teaching and learning.
This summer was probably the busiest since I first became principal. Our campus has been transformed into a construction zone, and workers were busy getting as much done as possible while school was not in session, including working into the evening and on weekends. (I started a blog last year to document our progress on this project.) Today, that campus has changed considerably and will continue to change for the next two years or so. We are fortunate to be working with a wonderful team. Everyone patiently answers my numerous questions, and they take care of our concerns right away. We haven't completely moved into our new administration building yet, and we still have lots of organizing to do. It certainly is wonderful, though, to be in a new office which is more than twice the size of the other one.
Enrollment is down -- way down -- and we cannot figure out why this is happening. Our School Liaison Officer shared that this seems to be a trend, and it may have to do with the increase in housing allowance for our military personnel. Perhaps families are opting to use their increase in allowance and live off-base. Whatever the reason, we could face some hard decisions on Official Enrollment Count Date next week because our allocation is based on the number of students enrolled.
This year, students in Hawaii will be taking the Smarter Balanced Assessments for the first time. This will provide us with baseline data for future years. Last school year, our school participated in the pilot SBAC test, and the students struggled. Teachers realized that preparing our students for the Hawaii State Assessment was very different; they had gotten used to the types of questions on the HSA, and it was clear that the SBAC requires more writing and deeper thinking. Students need to have those kinds of experiences if we expect them to feel confident as test-takers. At Hale Kula, we did not purchase the programs for language arts (Wonders) or math (Stepping Stones) because we did not have the funds to do so. We have the opportunity to demonstrate that it is not the program that makes a difference; it is the teacher in the classroom who empowers students to want to learn through inquiry-based projects, problem-solving activities, and differentiated instruction, as well as collaboration within the school as well as globally.
Recently, Eric Sheninger spoke with a group of school leaders from the North Central complex area. Eric is the principal of New Milford High School; he is an innovative school leader, renowned speaker-presenter, and the author of Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. As a school leader, he supported and empowered his staff and students to transform teaching and learning and to use technology as a tool for exploring, collaborating, communicating, thinking critically, problem-solving, creating, and sharing. The projects he shared, all staff or student-initiated, were inspiring and true examples of learning beyond the walls of the school. This is what we would like all of our Hale Kula students to experience, from our youngest preschoolers to our fifth graders.
And this is what I hope all our teachers believe about me as an administrator -- that I will support and empower them to try new ideas in their classroom; it is only two weeks since our teachers returned for the school year, but already, several of them have shared that they will be trying something new this year. Many are also open to sharing with other teachers at our Tech Tips Tuesdays about how they use a specific tech tool in their classroom. We are encouraging reflection - by students and teachers - as a way to make learning more permanent and meaningful. Perhaps someone will decide to try blogging as a reflective tool; it's been effective for me :-)
I am looking forward to a great school year!
#SAVMP, #Eric Sheninger