Grading the Public Schools: What It Means
How good are the schools in your neighborhood? Are they getting any better? This report card tells all.
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Aliamanu Middle School
Principal Patricia Park doesn’t hold back anything, good or bad, from her teachers. When she saw her school’s ranking in HONOLULU Magazine last year, she took the article straight to her faculty. Aliamanu Middle School was among the worst schools in the state, ranking No. 218 out of 256 and earning an overall grade of D-.
Compared to other middle schools in Aliamanu’s central district, Park’s school fell among the bottom few. Compared with the seven elementary schools and high schools in the same school complex, including Aliamanu Elementary and Radford High, Aliamanu Middle School was dead last.
“We really looked at the data and said, OK, we need to beef up parent satisfaction,’” Park says. “With the kids’ test scores, we asked, Was it that they didn’t know how to take the test, or did they really not know how to do it?’ Teachers became more aware of what the expectations were.”
This year, Aliamanu Middle School climbed 65 spots up the chart to No. 153, showing improvement in all five areas—teacher, parent, student satisfaction and math and reading scores. The school’s overall grade this year: C-. Not a stupendous performance, but definitely a big move in the right direction.
What changed? Plenty. In recent years, Aliamanu has focused more on professional development. Teachers take six development days each year.
“For consistency, we have the whole faculty learning and trying something new,” Park says. “We set up courses right here on campus that offer credits. If you earn so many, you can get a pay raise.”
Last year, teachers at Aliamanu and at the eight other Radford Complex schools received “Step Up to Writing” training. The program shows teachers how to help students improve writing skills in all subjects, even science and math. The initiative has since been implemented at the schools—just one example of how Aliamanu has worked with the elementary schools from which it gets its students, and with the high school to which its students will move on.
“It’s something we’re working on, and it’s getting smoother and smoother,” says middle school coordinator Linda Higashi. “From kindergarten, we should ask ourselves, What’s gonna happen to this child? What do we need to do to build them up to the vision of what a high school graduate is?’ Each of us has a part in that.”
Other changes at the middle school have come about thanks to a number of grants. A federal grant under the No Child Left Behind Act enabled Aliamanu to open a Transition Center in August. The center helps new students adjust to the school—a huge help, considering that 85 percent of its 800-plus students are military children.
Because of the school’s military population, the Department of Defense is one of its biggest benefactors. Last year, defense funds allowed Aliamanu to build a PC computer lab and renovate its existing Mac lab. The school has also received tens of thousands of dollars to buy textbooks.
“We lose about 30 percent of our kids every year, but a new student comes in almost every day,” Park says. “The numbers stay constant, but the students don’t. It can be really tough on teachers who want to build on things they’ve already taught.”
Aliamanu has also ramped up its communication with parents. The school set up e-mail accounts for faculty and installed phones in each classroom. Park also established an orientation day for incoming students, when parents can walk their children from class to class, sign up for bus services and meet the staff.
Such efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Shelley Lindsey enrolled her seventh-grade son, Patrick, at Aliamanu last year. Lindsey, whose husband is in the military, relocated from New Mexico two years ago.
“When we first came to Hawaii, people told me I shouldn’t send my child to public school, that I should home-school him,” Lindsey says. “But I was so impressed with this school from the start—the great communication, the open-door policy, how the teachers and principal are willing to go the extra mile. From day one, I thought to myself, They’re really recognizing we’re doing this together, we’re building a child together.’”
Honaunau Elementary and Intermediate School
A feeling of “good morale” is what students and educators attribute to the full letter grade improvement at Honaunau Elementary and Intermediate School. The K-8 facility is up from a D- to a C- on this year’s “Grading the Public Schools” report card, making it Hawaii’s most improved multilevel school. “We will continue improving to make our move up,” says principal Faye Ogilvie.
More common in rural areas and on the Neighbor Islands, multilevel schools combine elementary, intermediate and/or high school grades on a single campus. Established 102 years ago, Honaunau School is located 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island’s Hawaii Belt Road. School enrollment is 227; there is one class for each grade plus on-site pre-schools for both special-ed and migrant students.
Teacher satisfaction scores have almost tripled from last year; they’re up from 18.8 percent to 53.9 percent. Ogilvie credits the good marks to the fact that teachers feel they’re getting somewhere. “Our teachers are working as a team,” she explains. “They are focused on delivering standards-based instruction and meeting student needs.”
What are the results of this synergy? First, Honaunau School has improved student scores on national and state tests to the point where the school has met its goals under the federal No Child Left Behind act.
Second, Honaunau has, after four years of implementation, fully adopted a new approach to teaching, called America’s Choice School Design. The approach uses teaching techniques that have been proven effective at raising student performance, and sets high academic standards in such core subjects as math, English and science. “Teachers have been working really, really hard on America’s Choice,” says Ogilvie. “They’re at a point where it makes sense.”
With America’s Choice, students do a daily two-and-a-half-hour literacy workshop on reading and writing. “Instead of reading a book chapter and answering a worksheet, students do a variety of activities around novels,” explains teacher Cherokee Shaner. Pupils write essays that compare a text to themselves, to another book or to something in the world.
For math, students spend one-hour sessions on problem solving. Writing an answer using numbers isn’t good enough. Math whiz wannabes must also write word sentences and draw pictures. In this year’s chart, Honaunau students show a slight increase in math performance scores and a slight decrease in reading.
More parents are smiling at Honaunau School, too with the percentage of parents who would recommend Honaunau to other parents climbing from 55.5 percent to 65.7 percent. The school is reaching out to parents in new ways, including an open invitation for them to visit classrooms. “Teachers also share standards-based reading data with parents,” says Donna Pammer, Parent Community Network Coordinator. “That way, parents can see where their child’s performance is at in comparison to grade-level targets.”
In an effort to get parents more involved with their child’s learning, Honaunau School has a Read with Me program. It encourages families to share the joy of reading with children in pre-school through grade four.
According to the survey, more students are happy—48.8 percent, up from 35.4 percent. “I think kids like school because we’re doing more fun activities,” smiles Kimberly Hayama, student council president. “At Halloween, we got goodie bags. This spring there was a Living Healthy Fair.” At the fair, students were grouped to go on a Fitness Walk, and learned about nutrition and the perils of tobacco.
If Hayama could make a wish for her school, what would it be? “More computers in the classroom,” she answers without hesitation.