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Pay more attention to public schools' top students


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POSTED: Thursday, November 12, 2009

We humans are funny. We tend to want that which we don't have. At present, I don't have an iPhone, a laptop PC, nor a luxury car. Those are great material products, but items I don't need.

What I do want, however, is what Hawaii is lacking. I desire an invaluable key to success! I want a quality, rigorous and enriching public school education for a sparse minority. That “;gap group”; consists of today's accelerated, gifted and talented children.

Throw back to the 1970s. That period was a boom for funding and providing public education for children possessing an IQ greater than 120, higher level creativity, leadership potential, and precocious academic capabilities. (Mainland U.S. schools had and in some districts still maintain university prep “;magnet”; public schools for bright, highly motivated students). Education was valued as a basic key to success. Education embraced the smart, astute child. Currently, the education pendulum has swung, nearly 180 degrees.

Millions of dollars in federal funds and grants are available for the “;bottom 40 percent.”; Here are some examples:

» Free and reduced school meals are available for qualifying families.

» Educational assistants are hired to help special-needs individuals and English language learners.

» Community programs assist new immigrants.

» Special elective courses are set up to target students whose parent(s) did not attend college.

Moreover, fundraisers are planned and held to offset bus rental, excursion admissions, sports programs, and student fee costs.

Financial assistance and services are meant to reduce the bottom line, especially for poverty level groups.

My dedicated colleagues and I have each taught in the state Department of Education for 10 to 25 years so far. We are committed. Most of us still like our jobs. Daily, we are on the front lines, face to face with class sizes of up to 28-34 students per hour in an ever-changing, sometimes chaotic system. We educate all walks of socioeconomic life. Public school is just that.

Yet, more and more, diversity abounds in the general student demographics. We have noted an evolution among our secondary level student-clients. Wide ranges of IQ, low EQ (emotional intelligence), dramatic immature behaviors, and a teeming attitude lacking any value in a solid, well-rounded education prevail. Why is that? Where's the key?

At my middle school, we have been privileged to work with thriving students whose parents are attorneys, bank or utilities company executives or successful journalists. Surely, those particular families could have afforded a private school education for their children. But they chose not to. They believed, as I do, in the public school system. Perhaps it's about tradition. Maybe it's faith in the home-to-school-success model. My own two children attend public school. They truly like school. They want to go to college ... and beyond.

In Japanese culture, the adult generation strives for “;more”; for their subsequent generation of children. My parents, of neighbor island plantation roots, demanded and sacrificed for my brothers and me so we could attend college—an opportunity they never had. Remarkably, they saw us through public school and all three of us kids graduated from UCLA. There were no other options. Any determination, perseverance and integrity that I may have, I owe to my parents and the educationally based upbringing they gave me. So education was a key to success.

Hawaii, look toward education as a means to an end product. Amid Furlough Friday havoc, many voting citizens and I have advanced from bewilderment, shock, frustration and outrage toward optimistic resolution. We, as a community, need to invigorate Hawaii's economy, businesses and social services and restore human capital. Everyone must value a quality education. It's a need.

Furthermore, our bright, future leaders—namely the accelerated students—are unjustly discounted. They, as the “;top 5 percent,”; matter, too.

Let's continue the dialogue and problem-solve. Here's looking back on history, commending driven parents, and fostering all children.

But additionally, I want to state a case for the motivated, intelligent, achieving students. Those children value education. Those youngsters also have a right to a quality public education, just as the other children do. We can make grand improvements in public education. It takes all of us, one individual at a time.

Sandra M. Togashi, a public school teacher, resides in Kailua.