Sunday, May 31, 2015

Another School Year Comes to a Close

In three days, SY2014-2015 will come to an end.  I was browsing through the yearbook that the Parent Teacher Organization put together and reminisced about everything that had taken place this past year.

Our Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation process was our biggest challenge this year. Every member of our staff was involved in the process, and the whole school community rallied around to ensure that the visit reflected our self-study report.  The Visiting Committee validated our report as well as the areas of strength and areas for improvement. We are still awaiting news from WASC about our accreditation term; we will let you know when we receive that report.

As I thumbed through the pages of the yearbook with photos of the different activities, I felt proud that our students were community contributors.  Our students loved participating in activities like the Turkey Trot, Jingle Bell Run, and Jump Rope for Heart.  We contributed generously to the Hawaii Foodbank, the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, and the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society. Our second graders also participated in their annual beach clean-up as a culmination of their social studies unit about renewable and non-renewable resources. We will continue to encourage our students to participate in these kinds of projects so they realize that they can make a difference in this world. After all, we may live on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but our students are global citizens.  What we do now impacts their world in the future.

Our taught curriculum focused on the Common Core State Standards and embedded critical thinking, problem-solving, and project-based learning. But school is more than just academics.  As I browsed through the yearbook, I saw evidences of other meaningful learning experiences such as the school-wide Cardboard Challenge, grade level gardens, learning about Hawaiian history and culture, intramural activities, and service clubs such as Student Council, Greeters Club, and Junior Police Officers.  A well-rounded school experience includes art, music, drama, and physical education as well as the academics, and we are pleased that Hale Kula offers these opportunities for our students.

Of course, a review of the year would not be complete without mentioning our construction project. We started off the school year in the beautiful and spacious new administration building, and as the year ends, we are beginning to move into the new classroom building; next year, about 200 students will be in the new classrooms, and all students will be able to use the tech lab. Construction will continue for at least one more school year when the library media/student center and the covered play court should be ready for occupancy.  We are so grateful to all those who made this project possible! Our students now and in the future will be the beneficiaries of their foresight in allocating the funding necessary to upgrade our facilities.

The ending of the school year is bittersweet.  While most of us look forward to summer break, working in a military-impacted school means that about a third of our students and their families will be leaving our school. I wish I could see all of our students as they progress from kindergarten through fifth grade and transition to middle school and high school, but that rarely happens in a military-impacted school. It is my hope that these students will remember their time in Hawaii and at Hale Kula with warm memories and that they will spread "aloha" wherever they go. Fortunately, through social media, we can keep in touch with those who have left Hale Kula.

As this school year ends, I'd like to thank everyone for making 2014-2015 a memorable year at Hale Kula Elementary School!

Students ran to music at the annual Jingle Bell Run and brought in donations for the Wounded Warrior Project.  The Student Council representatives researched different charitable organizations and voted to donate any funds raised to the Wounded Warrior Project. 

Our JPOs worked with the military police once a month to remind drivers to drive safely.  

Our partners, the HHBN 25th ID, assisted with various projects throughout the year. We really appreciate their partnership with our school, and they enjoy being with the students and helping out.  Here, they are helping with the Cardboard Challenge activities. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Disconnected Leadership - Something to Think About

I look forward to reading Peter DeWitt's blogs in EdWeek.  I find myself agreeing with him most of the time about issues like school climate, accountability, testing, and leadership. One of his recent blogs was about Disconnected Leadership.  Peter conducted a survey and suggested that there are 3 areas that are at the heart of the disconnect between teachers and school leaders:  faculty meetings and classroom observations which in turn affect school climate.

This blog made me reflect on how I lead at our school.  I wondered whether our teachers felt the same way as many of the teachers in the survey.  I think our teachers would agree that we do try to communicate as much information as possible via emails or our staff bulletin rather than through faculty meetings. Many of our teachers know of my aversion to sitting in meetings where we "sit and get" and where the agendas are composed of compliance issues and mandates.  This is primarily why I do my best not to do that to our staff.  However, Peter suggests that another reason why teachers may be disengaged in faculty meetings is because they have not been asked for their suggestions and have not helped to co-construct the agenda.

Peter also mentioned that classroom observations are a problem, especially when teachers are at the receiving end of feedback and the observation does not create new learning opportunities for them.  A major component of our State's evaluation system is a teacher observation using the Danielson framework. I personally do not believe that 30% of a teacher's evaluation should be based on one observation, and I've shared my viewpoints previously in an earlier blog. I enjoy going into classrooms to talk with kids and see what kind of learning is taking place, but I prefer less formal observations that give me information about what goes on in the classroom on a daily basis and not just once a year during a required observation.

Finally, Peter shares that school climate is impacted negatively when relationships between leaders and their staff are strained, and he suggests that we start by changing the way we do faculty meetings and classroom observations/evaluations.  I agree.  I believe that how we conduct faculty meetings, professional development sessions, or observation feedback with our teachers should mirror what we want to see in the classrooms where the outcome would be excited learners following their passions and trying new ideas, collaborating with their peers, and self-reflecting to improve.  The first step is being open to ideas from our staff to determine faculty meeting agendas or professional development sessions.  The second step is to work with teachers to build their capacity to lead these sessions with their peers.

After all, education is about the learner and the learning.  This is true not only for students but for teachers and school leaders as well.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Grading the Public Schools"

It's that time of the year when Honolulu Magazine publishes their annual "Grading the Public Schools" article.  As the proud principal of our school, I always buy the issue but I dread what I will read.  You see, our school is never at the top of the list, and even if I know how the magazine rates schools, it is difficult to explain why we receive the grade we are given.

Last year was especially hard; it was the first year for a different rating system Strive-HI, and it is a challenge to try to explain how our score was calculated.  Last year, we were rated a D+, and even if the State said we were in "Continuous Improvement," the general public sees that grade and reacts to it. I had family members ask if I was disappointed with the grade (of course I was!) or parents asking what we were going to do to improve. This year, the magazine rated us a "C."  Our Strive-HI scores went up from 178 points to 228, but that's still a far cry from the maximum 400 points. 228 points places us #85 amongst 172 elementary schools in our state, smack dab in the middle.

The truth is that every school does the best they can with the cards they are dealt.  I guarantee that every school looks at their students and designs programs that best address the needs of their students. We have a transient military population with students coming in and leaving at all times of the school year.  We know that most of these students will be with us for maybe two or three years before leaving for another state or country.  Our vision is to "empower learners to explore, discover, create, and share," and that means access to learning using a variety of tools, including technology.  I am amazed when I see students so confidently using different tech tools to collaborate on projects or to share what they have learned.  Our teachers use project-based learning to engage their students in understanding concepts through interdisciplinary units, and we offer students opportunities to experience coding, design studio, Robotics, drama, intramural sports, gardening, and media club. This year, many of our teachers have integrated art into their teaching, and the students are responding with incredible projects.

Last year, I complimented a fellow principal on her students' success at the `Olelo Youth XChange media competition, and she wryly responded, "You mean our D- school?" We laughed when I told her, "Well, we got a D+," to which she replied, "Gee, those "A" schools must be really outstanding!" We both realized that as long as we focus on engaging our learners and providing them with unique experiences, we are preparing them to be successful despite the grade in the magazine.

We may not ever achieve the highest scores or grades on Strive-HI, but I am proud of all the opportunities we offer our students.  I am confident that they will leave our school better-prepared to make their mark in the world. Here are just a few of the activities our students experience at our school.

Fourth graders were able to make an ipu from scratch and learned to play this musical instrument.
Students from preschool through fifth grade learn to garden.  This is a fourth grade Hawaiian garden with native as well as introduced plants.  

Our Robotics team has had much success despite having to form a new team every year.  This is a tribute to the students and their coaches who put in a lot of extra hours to prepare for the competitions.
We have the support of our military partners for school-wide events like The Cardboard Challenge.  The students and soldiers have so much fun creating!

Finally, we are proud of our Media Club for creating and producing outstanding videos. Check out our HKES Kids Vimeo Channel for some of the projects our students have created.