Sunday, October 16, 2016

All Schools Deserve to Be Upgraded

Tomorrow, we officially celebrate the completion of the final phase of our 3+ year project to upgrade our school as well as the renaming of our school to Daniel K. Inouye Elementary School. As I reflect on our journey as the first school in Hawaii to qualify for the DOD-OEA funding for schools on military bases across the country, I realize that we have a responsibility to share our journey,  to celebrate our success, and to hopefully make it possible to create a system that allows private-public partnerships to upgrade our schools in Hawaii.

After President Obama was first elected, military parents met with Secretary of Defense Gates to share their concerns over the poor condition of schools on base. A facilities assessment was undertaken on all schools located on military bases in the country, and after a rating scale based on "condition" and "capacity," our school was #9 on the list of 157 schools. That started a whirlwind process to apply for a a DOD-OEA grant to receive funding (80% of the project cost) to address areas of need in the assessment. (Slideshow)  Senator Daniel K. Inouye was instrumental in passage of a Congressional allocation of $250 million in what would be one of his last major measures passed as the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairperson. Through a charrette process involving a design team, Department of Education as well as school staff, and the military, we created 21st century buildings where students are able to collaborate and communicate with others not just within their classroom but globally as well and where critical thinking and creating are emphasized

On July 1, 2013, we held a groundbreaking ceremony, and a little more than three years later, our project is completed. Throughout the 3-phase process, I updated our community via a blog. We realized that many of our students and their families would not be at our school to follow our progress to upgrade our facilities. As each phase was completed, I would ask myself how we got so lucky to be able to rebuild and renovate our school.

As a school located on a military base, we were fortunate to be able to access federal funds to address concerns noted in the facilities assessment. 80% of the cost was provided by the DOD-OEA grant, and 20% was funded via a State Legislative appropriation to our Department. For $6.6 million in State funds, we now have an Administrative Building that is much larger than the old one that was built in 1959. Our 10-classroom building with flexible learning spaces are so much more conducive to learning than the portable classrooms we were using. .Our library is spacious and the available resources as well as the Makerspace will empower our students to explore, discover, create and share. Counselors and our School Mental Health Team from Tripler Army Medical Center have their own rooms for privacy (previously, they all shared a room), and now, we can meet as a faculty in a meeting room rather than in the cafeteria. And our covered play court? I pinch myself every time I go there. Our physical education teachers and our students will make great use of this facility, and we now have a place for our whole school to gather for assemblies and events.

But shouldn't all schools - not just schools on military bases - be able to re-invent and upgrade their school facilities? (Right now, Solomon Elementary and Mokapu Elementary are waiting to hear if they are receiving funding for their schools.)  So many of our schools need to be renovated or upgraded, and funding from the Legislature is limited. We need to think of other ways to upgrade our schools, many of which are already 50+ years old.

The Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs examined the issue of private-public partnerships to build 21st century schools for Hawaii's students and shared their ideas in  "Systematic Approach to Building 21st Century Schools: Experiences in the Aloha State,"  Although a bill was passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor, in 2011, we have not yet seen the impact on our schools. In fact, communities and legislators have to "fight" to get their share of funding to upgrade or to build new schools in growing communities, and the cost continues to increase each year.

When I became principal of our school in February 2003, I never dreamed that we would ever be allocated funds to upgrade our facilities. Now that our project is completed, I hope that our positive experience will start the discussion on how to provide this kind of opportunity for other schools that were built for a different generation of students. All students deserve it.

Our Administration Building was the Phase I. The building was completed in July 2014, one year after groundbreaking. 
The 10-classroom building was Phase II and was completed in time to start the 2015-2016 school year. This building won the Masons Institute Award for the Best Project of the Year. Here's a link to the presentation that was prepared by Design Partners, Inc.  
Phase III included the library media and student support center located in the front of the school. Notice the new school name on the front of the building.

The covered play court was also part of Phase III. Now we have a place for assemblies for the whole school. 

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