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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.


(page 5 of 5)


Kalani High School

Things are looking up at Kalani, this year’s most improved high school in our “Grading the Public Schools” report. As we were preparing to profile Kalani for its gains we got word that its students had their day in court and emerged victorious—of course, we’re talking about Kalani’s mock-trial student team, which just won the state mock-trial championship. This qualifies Kalani to compete in the nationals this month in Florida. Consider that one of many bright spots on campus.

“In the state championship, we competed against other public as well as private schools,” says mock-trial team coach Gregory S. Van Cantfort. “You’re given a case and prepare one side of it, while the other schools prepare the other side.” The championship was held in the Territorial-era courthouse, Aliiolani Hale. There, Kalani unseated private schools like Punahou and Hawaii Preparatory Academy (HPA), as well as “the juggernaut,” Kauai High School, which had gone undefeated for seven years.

Van Cantfort wears many hats. The social studies teacher, in his 16th year at Kalani, teaches two advanced-placement U.S. history classes and, two regular history classes and, is Kalani’s co-acting athletic director and boy’s varsity soccer coach. On top of this, he sits on the school’s redesign committee, a body that may be one of the most revolutionary things happening on this campus.

Teacher Gregory Van Cantfort with the students  in his mock trial team (seated, left to right):
Kelly Morikone, Michi Momose, Krystin Yogi, Natasia de Silva, Sharry Zhang, Sara Fares,
Vanessa Koseki and (standing, left to right) Roxanne Kwong, Marcus Nakama, Kelsie Furutani,
Chloe Yogi, Christina Hunt and legal advisor, attorney Charlie Price.

“We’re in a really exciting moment at the school, working on redesigning it,” he says. “The impetus behind this was that we

didn’t feel there was a real connection with the students, and they weren’t connected with what they were learning.” This was especially puzzling, since Kalani is relatively small for a local high school, with just around 1,000 students. “Now we’re trying to personalize their education.”

One way to do that is to create “small academies within the schools.” Next year’s freshmen, for example, will be split into four houses. Another approach is to reinvent Kalani as a magnet school based on the theme of law. “Not just in the sense of attorneys,” says Van Cantfort, “but in all subjects. We would teach science through forensics, for example, and bring in the other subjects, such as math and physics.”

Recently, the redesigners at Kalani High attended a symposium for Kalani and all the schools that feed into it, trying to configure all of kindergarten through 12th grade so that the schools support each other. “The table I was at had administrators, teachers, parents, business people. I really had an eye-opening experience listening to how the non-educators perceived the education system,” recalls Van Cantfort. “They feel that kids coming out of high school are not prepared for the work force. Hearing that come from them, I felt kind of sad, because, as a teacher, I wondered, am I lacking? Likewise, it was eye-opening to the non-educators to see what teachers have to go through, how difficult it is to wade through the bureaucracy just to get to teaching.”

One thing that pushed Kalani up 43 places on our chart was a big gain in teacher satisfaction, expressed as the percentage of teachers who say they would send their own child to Kalani. Teachers there have found new reasons to feel involved. Another big gain was in math scores, from 33.3 percent meeting or exceeding proficiency to 50.8 percent.

“Our math department members have been working closely with one another to align the curriculum with the state standards from one grade to the next,” says Kalani principal Randian Porris-Tang. “We’d also have to thank the teachers at the intermediate and elementary schools; the whole complex has been working really hard.”

—A. Kam Napier


Our Sources

Where did we get our numbers? Satisfaction scores from the teachers, parents and students were collected by the Department of Education through its annual School Quality Survey, administered last spring and released in October 2003. The full survey results for each school run about 24 pages and offer valuable insights. We recommend that you read them, in full. They are available online at http://arch.k12.hi.us/school/sqs/.

To find out how satisfied teachers, parents and students are with their own schools, we used their responses to specific SQS questions that struck us as crucial. If you were figuring out where to enroll your own child, these are exactly the things you would ask.

Our teacher satisfaction score is the percentage of teachers agreeing, or strongly agreeing, with the statement, “I would send my own child to this school.” This year’s scores range from a low of 4.8 percent at Waianae Elementary to a high of 100 percent at 11 different schools throughout the state.

Our parent satisfaction score is the percentage of parents agreeing, or strongly agreeing, with the statement, “I would recommend my child’s school to other parents.” This year’s scores range from a low of 13.9 percent at Molokai High and Intermediate, to a high of 100 percent at Maunaloa Elementary, the only school to get a perfect parent satisfaction score.

Our student satisfaction score is the percentage of students disagreeing with the statement, “If I could, I would go to a different public school.” This is the closest the SQS comes to asking students for bottom- line assessment of their own schools. In this case, disagreement is good, indicating that the students are happy or willing to attend their present school. This year’s scores range from a low of 20 percent at Kaaawa Elementary to a high of 86.5 percent at Aliiolani Elementary.

Each school’s math and reading scores come from the 2003 Hawaii State Assessment, administered last spring. The score for each school that you find in our chart is simply the percentage of students tested who met or exceeded the state’s proficiency standards. Math proficiency ranged from 0.0 percent at three Oahu elementary schools—where literally no student tested met Hawaii’s proficiency standards—to a high of 73.5 percent at Koko Head Elementary. Reading proficiency ranged from 10.8 percent at Anuenue School to a high of 85.7 percent at Momilani Elementary.


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Honolulu Magazine August 2020
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