Teacher's complaints prompt Lingle to visit school
A Waianae teacher criticizes facilities and student behavior
Gov. Linda Lingle is promising to improve conditions at Waianae Intermediate School, its principal said yesterday, five days after a teacher announced he would resign because of old classrooms, a lack of books and bad student behavior at the campus.
Lingle visited the school yesterday afternoon to speak with Principal John Vannatta after reading a letter from teacher Kriss Conley in Sunday's Star-Bulletin.
In the piece, Conley said he would quit his job because he did not have grammar, literature or workbooks to teach 31 students in his eighth-grade class. He also criticized his portable classroom, saying it lacks tiles, has burned-out light bulbs and has plywood nailed to windows.
Vannatta, who acknowledged the school is in dire need of repairs, said Lingle would make sure buildings will be renovated soon.
The governor, her senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, and communications director, Lenny Klompus, spoke with school administrators for 30 minutes and quickly left. Lingle stopped at Waianae Intermediate after dedicating the Waianae homeless shelter, which was built on a lot next to the school.
The principal of Waianae Intermediate School responded to claims that conditions at the campus are so bad it might force a teacher to quit by informing Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday that the school needs more than $1 million for basic upgrades.
But John Vannatta, who has headed the 40-year-old school for four years, stressed that repairs alone will not be enough to properly educate the 1,036 students, many of whom come from poor, homeless families.
Lingle met with Vannatta for a half-hour to talk about a critical letter by eighth-grade teacher Kriss Conley that was printed in Sunday's Star-Bulletin.
Conley said aging facilities, low support and bad student behavior are forcing him to give up teaching, attributing the problems to everyone from Lingle to the state Department of Education, down to teachers and parents.
Vannatta said work to paint and upgrade electrical systems in the buildings, install energy-efficient lights, replace blackboards and fix classrooms has been scheduled for many years. But trouble finding a contractor and removing asbestos has delayed the job.
"It is in need of renovation. It is showing its age," Vannatta said.
After dedicating a homeless shelter by the school, Lingle visited Waianae Intermediate with her senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, and communication director, Lenny Klompus. She planned to tour the campus but had to rush back to the Capitol for pressing legislative issues, Klompus said. Lingle did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Waianae Intermediate was placed under federal restructuring three years ago because of poor test scores. Most students still scored well below proficiency levels in the last Hawaii State Assessment.
In his column, Conley argued that students cannot monitor their progress because they do not have workbooks. Vannatta, however, said schools being restructured use a different curriculum, with teachers helping students keep track of their work through reading and writing assignments.
He noted students have access to some 11,000 books at the library and 30 computers.
Vannatta said many students are a "huge challenge" for teachers because they bring family problems to the classroom. Improvements, he said, "are not going to happen overnight."
Conley could not be reached for comment. He had not asked to resign as of yesterday afternoon, Vannatta said.