A Tale of Two Schools in Hawaii
Nanakuli High and Intermediate School. Moanalua High School. Both of these public schools have big reputations, good and bad. We spent time on each campus to find out what they’re really like. It may surprise you.
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On the Same Page
Vice principal Julia Toyama says they call themselves the A-Team—the administration team, she explains with a smile. She’s referring to principal Darrel Galera and the school’s three vice principals. Similar to the Nanakuli team, they are never without their walkie-talkies and cells. Each year, Toyama and her co-VPs divide the school’s responsibilities, from budget, to athletics, to custodial. Galera has honed this team since becoming principal in 2000. He tells us about cultivating an environment where “the students are engaged and they want to be here.”
Naturally, teachers are the linchpins and many of the instructors spend much of their teaching careers at Moanalua. “Teachers provide you with a learning experience that’s going to help you for life,” says Galera. He takes this sentiment to heart, but it isn’t all talk. Eleven years ago, Moanalua began hosting teacher professional- development conferences, featuring Mainland keynote speakers. (The latest one was in April.) They’re not only for Moanalua teachers, some of whom are presenters, any educator can register.
English and broadcast-journalism teacher Lynne Sueoka says Galera starts off each school year with a moving speech—some teachers have dubbed it the State of the School address—making them feel valued. “One year he had us all walk outside, look out to the horizon, the horizon of where we want to move our kids,” she says. “You have to be inspired if we are to inspire the kids.”
“I’ve had amazing teachers,” says senior Haley Pendergast. “Teachers who are good at what they do and excellent at teaching, not only in their fields, but in teaching us how to be better people.”
Galera says his administration stresses teacher accountability “not by using fear, but through transparency.” He created an academic officer position and hired Richard Taylor to build on teacher development. Every school day, since 2009, Taylor observes six classes for about 15 minutes each. He then fills out a form and emails the teachers with positive feedback, and suggestions. “Overall, it’s been positive,” he says. “Most teachers want to improve.” While Nanakuli just put its own teacher observations in place, it’s too soon to tell how uniform they’ll be.
Just as useful for teachers are the conversations that take place outside of their classrooms. Two years ago, Moanalua started what they call data teams. Every week, teachers of the same subject—math, science, English, etc.—meet to talk shop: They discuss curriculum, teaching strategies and more. They keep a record, too, so they’re able to track best practices and student progress. “Data teams give structure,” says Taylor. “It looks at instruction and allows the teachers to talk and share.”
“It’s a good experience for us to hold ourselves accountable,” adds Sueoka.
At Nanakuli, teachers are having these same discussions. However, many have to do it on their own, because there aren’t schoolwide, dedicated teacher meetings, as with Moanalua’s data teams.
Moanalua also has a proven track record when it comes to consistency. Take, for example, its Career and Academic Planning (CAP) program, established in 1997. Every Moanalua student participates in a CAP class once a week for 35 minutes. All teachers and administrators tutor a group of about 22 students, teaching everything from how to fill out a job or college application to living on your own. Moanalua even pays for its juniors to take the ACT test; freshmen and sophomores also take aptitude tests.
“We’re meeting consistently with students to talk about their futures, and, whether or not they like it, they’re hearing it,” says CAP coordinator Vangie Casinas. “I think there’s a high correlation with the desire or intent to go to college because we talk about this through the four years.”
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