Flexibility gives students
better chance for progress


Windward Oahu schools are charting their own course for improving students' performance.

THOUGH some struggling public schools in Hawaii have looked to ready-made programs from private education companies for help, those in the Windward Oahu district have crafted home-grown tactics to improve their standings.

One method isn't better than the other. Rather, the differences reflect a new flexibility that administrators, who are more likely to know their students' needs, can employ as public schools move toward self-determination. That's an encouraging development.

Costs were one reason Lea Albert, the district's energetic superintendent, and her staff chose to assemble their own approach for improving three elementary schools, placed in restructuring status because they have not met benchmarks of the federal No Child Left Behind law. However, that appears to be secondary to their conviction that a one-size-fits-all tack would be less effective than targeting the specific needs of their students.

The schools' populations are largely Hawaiian so Albert has enlisted the aid of Kamehameha Schools, the trust whose mission is to educate Hawaiian children. Kamehameha, which already had a presence on one campus, is providing literacy instruction with Hawaiian culture stirred in, making lessons sensibly pertinent to students.

The district also is getting help from education professors at Brigham Young University-Hawaii in counseling and professional development for its teachers. Collaboration sessions are conducted weekly for teachers to discuss productive methods. Students are given clear objectives for learning and for the tests required by the federal law.

No Child Left Behind has placed enormous pressure on public schools, requiring children to reach proficiency levels that rise year by year with the goal that all students master math and language arts by 2014. Annual tests determine which schools are meeting standards. Those that fall short face various penalties unless scores improve.

Of the nearly 50 Hawaii schools undergoing restructuring, 24 of them have contracted off-the-shelf programs that will cost the state almost $8 million. Though many schools have adapted the programs to fit their needs, the Windward district is the first to design its own.

Whether the schools and students have succeeded won't be known until scores from the next round of tests come out, but Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto sees merit in Windward's blueprint, saying the schools most recently placed in restructuring likely will go that route.

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