Tom Krieger and Stacie Caires, instructors at Dole Intermediate School, took part Monday in activities for a school-reform program offered by Edison Schools, one of three firms providing restructuring programs in Hawaii.

Restructuring forces
teachers to learn

School-reform program providers
are being met with a mixture
of skepticism and relief

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Dole Middle School teacher Ray Cruz said he was "real skeptical" when he heard this spring that the school was one of 20 slated for reform by a mainland education firm.

But he was singing the praises of his school's reform partner, Edison Alliance, yesterday after clicking through an Edison computer program that will provide him instant feedback on student quiz results and help him pinpoint areas of weakness.

"That will be a big help. As soon as a kid walks back to class from taking the test, I'll know how he did and what we need to work on," Cruz said yesterday during a training session at the Sheraton Waikiki for Edison-partnered schools.

As the back-to-school season picks up, students aren't the only ones facing a learning curve.

Teachers and principals from the restructuring schools, some of which have already begun classes, are cramming this week on how to implement the school-wide reform programs of providers, which also include America's Choice and ETS Pulliam.

They are facing the challenge with some skepticism, but also hope that the integrated plans touted by the three firms will bring academic success to the schools, all of which are in lower-income areas.

"We're looking forward to it. We feel like we've exhausted all of the other avenues and we're open to something new," said Maile Akiona, a second-grade teacher at Aiea Elementary School.

Despite slight differences in the three firms' approaches, all are focused on one objective: improving scores on the state's make-or-break annual standardized tests.

Central Middle School instructor Sheila Leong, right, laughed as Pat Matsumoto jumped for joy during a training exercise using balloons. Also pictured are Takyin Li and Evelyn Cullen. All took part Monday in a program at the Sheraton Waikiki introducing teachers to a school restructuring plan offered by mainland education company Edison Schools.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, consistent failure to achieve adequate scores on the state tests triggers restructuring. All told, 24 Hawaii schools are in restructuring this school year, four of which are being handled directly by the state.

School reform plans, which provide a campus-wide focus for the year, are still being rolled out. Some won't be finished until next month, when the results of this spring's state testing provide a report card for each school.

But the general picture is clear. All three firms will provide instructional frameworks for teachers to follow to ensure students learn everything they need to know for the spring tests. Instructional experts will provide on-site support to help teachers and students get there.

Edison is installing servers at schools to help teachers crunch student data and identify areas where students are falling behind. ETS Pulliam provides the same via the Internet.

And all three are encouraging school-wide team-building efforts aimed at focusing the entire school on raising student achievement.

"Things have improved dramatically," seventh-grade English teacher Howard Chi said of Waianae Intermediate School's experience with America's Choice.

Despite implementing the program of its own volition several years ago, the school tipped into restructuring this year. But Chi said that obscures steady progress made by students at a traditionally tough school. An environment conducive to learning has sprouted where there wasn't one.

"Before, kids could get away with one thing in one classroom but not in another. The rules were different from one class to the next. But now we're on the same page," said Chi.

Aiea Elementary staff have been riding home on buses since school began last week to encourage "proper bus behavior," said Principal Arthur Kaneshiro.

"That's how they get to school, that's where their behavior in school begins. We want students to know we're serious about bringing good attitudes to school," he said.

One of the more delicate tasks for the providers will be to impart their systems without hitting the pride of hard-working teachers, said John Craig, general manager of Edison's effort in Hawaii.

"It might take time for some people to accept, and we totally respect that. Teachers get frustrated if they have to deal with a new program every couple of years," Craig said.

The providers say they plan to work in support of teachers, not against them. For the most part, existing curricula will stay in place.

"We don't tell teachers how to teach, just what their kids need to know and when they need to know it, so they can succeed on the tests next year," said Shirley Olson, lead instructional facilitator for ETS Pulliam here.

Aiea Elementary third-grade teacher Jennifer Asano said pride won't be a problem.

"You have to be open. You can't assume that you know everything, and if you're open to suggestions that will lead to good things," she said.

However, the situation worries some teachers.

Leinaala Vedder, a teacher at Paia Elementary on Maui, said she hopes the effort will succeed and is particularly positive about the help Edison will provide handling the mounting student data that teachers must track under No Child Left Behind.

"There is so much info we have to process now, and there is only so much time in the day. Inevitably you take that home with you," she said.

But the provider's presence on campus also cements the school's tunnel vision on state tests, she said.

"We're just teaching to the test and ignoring the whole child -- ignoring art and health and social skills and spirituality and so many other things," she said.

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