Monday, September 22, 2014

A Plan Going Forward - Improving Literacy at HKES

Tonight is our semi-annual Virtual School Community meeting where we share information about our school and solicit feedback or suggestions from our school community.  Last night, I was posting our questions for discussion, and a parent immediately posted his question to the school.  I remember that when I shared our results via social media, this same parent asked why our scores were so low because 32% of our 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders were not proficient in reading, and 43% did not reach the goal of 300 points for math.

I realized that a simple answer on our Facebook page would not do justice to this parent's concern. He suggested asking other schools what they were doing to get the kinds of scores they are getting. We have done that . . . when a school has done exceptionally well, I've asked the principal the question. What are you doing to get those kinds of results?

The truth is that there is no one answer.  Some schools implement a school-wide language arts or math program, and others do not.  Some focus on interventions, and others are just getting started with their Response to Intervention program.  Some have high parent involvement and other schools have minimal participation. Some are in higher-income districts, and some have a high number of disadvantaged students.  Some have a high percentage of experienced teachers, while some schools have teachers who have fewer years in the Department.

I don't believe in offering excuses; that does not help us to move forward and improve teaching and learning at HKES. But I also am aware that there is no magic bullet to solve our problems, and it could be that what works for another school is not what we need to do at HKES.

So what are we doing at HKES to ensure that our students are successful readers, writers, mathematicians, and thinkers? We are implementing a number of research-based strategies that have been successful in engaging students in their own learning.  One such strategy is having students ask and answer higher-level thinking questions before, during, and after an assignment. We also continue to focus on authentic learning such as interdisciplinary units, project-based or problem-based learning, integration of technology and the arts into the content areas (e.g. science or social studies), and differentiated instruction focused on student needs.  Our Response to Intervention process is well-grounded in research, and students who need extra help are identified early so they can receive the assistance they need to be successful in the classroom. Recognizing that students learn in different ways, we use manipulatives to teach the concrete, then move on to the representational model to build understanding of concepts. Additionally, we believe that students need to set goals, reflect, and assess their own work and behavior in order to improve.

All teachers are now being evaluated using a system based in part on student and teacher growth. Working hand-in-hand with the administrators and colleagues, teachers will be looking closely at student data and creating a plan so each individual child can meet or exceed proficiency on grade level expectations. We believe that by focusing on what each child needs and providing a relevant and engaging curriculum, we will be more successful in ensuring that students are ready for the next grade level at the end of the school year.

At HKES, students come and go on a daily basis. The challenge for us is to see where they are when they enroll at our school so we can ensure their success whether they continue at Hale Kula or transfer to another school when their family is assigned permanent housing. Because our school has one of the highest transiency rates, this can be a challenge for our staff!

As the principal of HKES, I am committed to providing our staff with the tools and support they need to continue their professional growth which will, in turn, positively impact student achievement. Although I agree that we need to have a system of accountability to compare student achievement, I also believe that test scores alone do not tell the whole story of a school. Through the power of social media, we keep in touch with parents who have shared their children's successful transition to their new schools - those run by the Department of Defense as well as schools all over the nation.  We appreciate the opportunity to "talk story" with our parents - virtually or face-to-face. We will continue to seek input on how we can improve; parent participation is such an important component in a student's success in school!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Aloha to Our Library/Tech Center

Take a look at the library/tech center building for the last time today.  Tomorrow, workers will be coming in to demolish the building to make way for our new 21st century library/media/student center with a completion date in early 2016.

While it is certainly an exciting time for our school, it is also bittersweet.  That building is 55 years old! Think of all the students who've walked into that library, discovered a favorite book, read voraciously about a topic of interest, or collaborated on a media project using tools such as Minecraft or Weebly or Thinglink. Think of all the librarians or the teachers who helped students and their families discover the joy of literacy through our library and special events such as Book Fairs, the Hour of Code, parent-child read-alouds, author visits, or Read Across America activities.

Today, the library is more than a place to borrow books. This week, Michelle Colte was selected as the inaugural School Librarian of the Year, besting 91 other exemplary school librarians from around the nation. According to Mark Ray in a blog about this award, the creativity and passion of these librarians bodes well for the future of school libraries.

We look forward to documenting the construction of our new library/media/student center as we say "aloha" to a place that has such wonderful memories for so many!

This is the view of our library, taken in 2009.  

After the abatement and the removal of the exterior paint, this is what the library looks like as they prepare to demolish the building.