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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, May 25, 2000


Duo inspires progress
at Lahaina elementary

KING Kamehameha III Elementary School in the historic heart of Lahaina, Maui, has jumped in third-grade reading accomplishment from 63.2 percent of its students in the lower third nationwide in 1997 to only 20 percent last year.

For such remarkable progress my Board of Education friend, Lex Brodie, most likely would point to the school principal. Brodie, after visiting every school in the state, reported to the board that principals make all the difference.

Kamehameha III's principal, Richard "Rick" Paul, however, attributes much of the school's success to his educational assistant, Ralph Dent, a fellow "refugee" from Arkansas, an ex-Marine and a businessman, while Paul is a lifelong teacher.

Dent, also a PTA leader, points to a community rich with school supporters -- most notably Lucille MacDonald, a widow who gave up buying a new car to write a $37,000 check for new playground equipment.

Community members worked weekends to install the new equipment and plant grass on a formerly dusty yard in the middle of the campus.

Paul says he accidentally won the principalship in 1994 and found Dent already there. The accident was that, as a vice principal at Baldwin High, Maui, Paul aimed only to hone his skills in interviewing for the Kamehameha III vacancy. His real goal was to be principal of a high school.

But the community/educator selection panel liked him and hired him. He didn't know a thing about elementary education, he said, and couldn't have told you where Building G was when he reported for work.

What Paul does believe is that a principal needs to be less an educator than a facilitator to help the skilled teachers under him do their best.

To that end, with Dent as a part of a Dynamic Duo that even made joint costumed comedy appearances at school parties, Kam III has achieved:

Bullet Campus cinder-block buildings repainted to sea green from prison brown.
Bullet An in-house TV system where fifth graders make like CNN announcers and report into every classroom first thing in the morning on events for the day, teacher announcements, the weather and more.
Bullet Computer network connections in every classroom, achieved budget-wise at first by closing the computer lab, now reopened.
Bullet Modern message-taking phones in every classroom, achieved by several years of accumulation from budget allowances.

Paul and Dent are conscious that their students eventually will move to the intermediate school part way up the hill behind Lahaina and eventually to Lahainaluna High, even farther up.

Thus they have worked with the community and Maui mayor to win computer funds for the high school. Object: To equip the high school graduates to seek jobs in Maui's growing high-tech industry.

They say the Lahaina area, a mountain-to-sea slice of Maui, well separated from the center and south parts of the island, has an especially strong sense of community. Harnessing this spirit to help the schools has not been hard, they say.

Kamehameha III Elementary may be best known as the hottest public school in Hawaii -- not academically, but by 95-degree classroom temperature readings.

This year, after hard lobbying, Kam III received state funding to cool its 40-some K-5 classrooms -- even as its drive for improvement remains hot.



A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.




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