Lingle not giving up
on school board plan

A DOE-sponsored
event examines how
to improve schools

Gov. Linda Lingle opened a day-long education summit yesterday by repeating her call for Hawaii residents to vote on whether to form local school boards.

"I am not alone in believing that home rule is an important part of improving our schools," Lingle told about 400 public school educators, parents and community leaders at Kapolei High School.

The Department of Education sponsored yesterday's "Reinventing Education for the 21st Century" summit so national experts on education could share their experiences with school reform.

Speakers included Tony Wagner from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and Arlene Ackerman, the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

In her speech, Lingle said a statewide telephone poll conducted for her office shows:

>> 74 percent of Hawaii residents surveyed want to vote on the issue of local school boards.
>> 75 percent believe schools should control 90 cents out of every dollar spent on education.
>> 80 percent believe principals should be held accountable for the progress of their students.

The survey was conducted by the Tarrance Group of Alexandria, Va., Jan. 29-Feb. 2 and has 4 percent margin of error.

Board of Education Chairman Breene Harimoto called Lingle's goal of taking the local school board issue to the voters misguided.

"If it were so simple, it would have been done a long time ago," Harimoto said. "This is not a media PR blitz. There's a lot of misinformation out there. If people are to vote, they need to be informed."

Lingle's education reform measure that would put the issue on a ballot in November died in the House and hasn't been scheduled for a vote in the Senate.

But Laura Thielen, a state Board of Education member who strongly supports local school boards, said yesterday at the summit that there's still a chance that public sentiment might change lawmakers' minds.

"Legislators know that there is substantial support (for local school boards) from people who want to see deep, systemic change," Thielen said. "But it keeps dying behind closed doors."

Art Souza, principal of Honokaa High School on the Big Island, said at the summit yesterday that "a local school board wouldn't necessarily mean more funding or better schools."

"I'm all for local control, but I don't think a local school board is necessarily the silver bullet," Souza said.

Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto wouldn't talk about the school boards issue yesterday. "I'm focusing on what we've got to do to improve student achievement," she said.

"Education is important and it is our priority," Hamamoto said in summarizing the day, which included attendees prioritizing their concerns for increasing the involvement of parents, principals and community partners in schools.

In separate speeches yesterday, Lingle and Hamamoto did acknowledge some areas of agreement in improving Hawaii schools. Both called for:

>> Adopting a so-called "weighted student formula," to distribute money based on student needs. For example, such a formula would distribute more money for students from poor households or who speak English as a second language.
>> More decision-making by principals.
>> Linking teacher and principal job evaluations to student performance.

Souza said he was inspired by summit participants' enthusiasm for improving Hawaii's public schools.

At the same time, Souza said he wonders "how we're going to reinvent schools if we don't reinvent DAGS (the state Department of Accounting and General Services) or DOT (Department of Transportation) -- they're sort of joined at the hip with the DOE."

Yesterday's event cost the DOE about $60,000 for materials, facilities, staff, printing and a live satellite broadcast to Olelo of the opening and closing portions, said Lynne Waters, a communications consultant who worked on the project.

About one-third of the participants were Department of Education employees, including teachers and principals from every island. Other participants included state lawmakers, business leaders and parents.

Molokai resident Ron Kimball called much of yesterday's summit a "rehash of the same stuff we've heard for the past 20 years. It's been talked about, but nobody did anything."


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