DOE Superintendent Kishimoto highlights the good work at Dole

From DOE Superintendent Kishimoto's weekly newsletter Kick Off Your Week dated October 1, 2018:

Highlights of School Design Work on Oahu

Yes, it’s October 1 — hard to believe! We are two months into the school year and it has been a busy but exciting start. Our HIDOE team is pushing forward engaging in new areas of innovation, exploring new ways of effectively accomplishing our important work, and advancing our learning as an organization through new professional development designs.

In the past four weeks I had the opportunity to meet with the 30 teacher leaders who are part of this year’s Hope Street Group Teacher Fellows cohort to talk about innovation and teacher leadership. Teachers play such a critical role in policy setting by being the voice from the classroom and school as we think about state-level policies that impact our haumana and our profession.

I also had a chance to visit with principals at several schools to learn about their innovations and their thoughts about unfolding opportunities that come with the discovery process. I’d love to share all of my school visits, but here are a few school highlights:

Palolo Elementary has a new school principal, Gary Harada, and he is a pug through and through after only a few weeks on the job! We walked through their new Center for Creative HeARTS, where students are learning through an integrated arts program funded by a HIDOE Innovation Grant award. I had the opportunity to sit with several students who came up with the idea to learn about how student voice was used through a design thinking process to determine this school design enhancement. The school isn’t stopping there; they are now discussing how to integrate their STEM projects with their new HeARTS Center for an interdisciplinary STEAM approach. Go, Pugs!

Under the leadership of Principal Dale Arakaki, Pauoa Elementary is one of Hawaii’s most improved schools with 81 percent of their tested students reaching or surpassing math proficiency, and 90 percent of third-graders reading at or above grade level. Impressive, right? Well, to ensure that everyone takes note, just today the U.S. DOE announced that Pauoa Elementary has attained Blue Ribbon status! Congratulations to our teachers, students, parents and staff! During my school visit there were two things that thoroughly impressed me. First was my detailed conversation with Principal Arakaki about their structured math delivery design. Second, I had the absolute pleasure of joining two teachers during their data team to hear them identify key planning questions as they shift more time and efforts into Tier I and away from Tier II as student performance gains are realized. This is difficult work and the discourse was impressive and student-centered.

Dole Middle School is one of 7 schools in Hawaii that is designated as a CSI school, or a school that must improve its school performance. The purpose of the designation is to ensure that the school has the leadership and broad support to improve outcomes for all students. Conversations about school improvement is an important part of our work and we should not shy away from it. Under the leadership of Principal Tasaka, Dole Middle School realized a 6% point gain in English Language Arts from school year 2017 to 2018 and a 4.5% gain in Mathematics in the same year over year time period. During my school visit, I met with a 7th grader who gave me a school tour and I saw a vibrant engaging school. 6th graders who are taking a digital media class were outside in the courtyard completing a photography assignment, while in an upper floor classroom I observed individual students presenting personal narratives in their 7th grade STEM class in preparation for group projects that will embed student voice. Teachers at Dole Middle have reorganized the campus to create unique learning spaces for each of their three classes of students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. They are also reorganizing their curriculum for 7th and 8th graders around pre-academy designs to serve as a feeder to the Farrington High School academy design. With a focus on compassion, understanding, and middle school philosophies, this is a school on the rise to watch as they roll out their new school model. 

Kalani High School, under the leadership of Principal Mitch Otani, is pushing innovation to a whole next level. After a mouth-gaping visit to their maker space and outdoor technology lab run by the Robotics Club student leader (who I thought was the teacher!), I had the pleasure of meeting with a large team of students, alumni, parents, leaders and community members who have used a HIDOE Micro-Innovation Grant award to help realize one of their ProtoLab design projects. This multi-constituent project uses the engineering design process to identify sustainability projects that need design support out in the community. Students bring those design challenges back to their lab space and work hand in hand with community members to problem solve and design. One such design focused on using Python coding to enable irrigation and plant-monitoring control units to respond to low moisture levels in soil. In a lively discussion with students, one student wanted to know, “Superintendent, how can we help you keep expanding these opportunities for innovation work?” Another student said candidly, “If all of our classes had this type of meaning, application and fun, then we would never have to worry about student absences. Those of us involved in this ProtoLab never want to leave school.”  

Ka’elepulu Elementary has clear expectations around Be Safe, Be Responsible Be Respectful and Be Ready to Learn that is lived by students and adults alike on campus. While Principal Jamie Dela Cruz talks about the embedded Habits of Mind approach and p4c, or Philosophy for Children inquiry approach, there was an instructional strategy that was a standout for me during my visit. Students across grades work in groups, taking turns in leadership roles so they are teaching each other. In one 5th grade class, a student sat at the head of a kidney-shaped reading table and took the lead on the learning assignment. The student voice and ownership for learning is a model of excellence. There is no more powerful learning practice than having students teach other students. It is in the teaching practice that students gain understanding about what they know and what they don’t know, which helps them to engage their metacognitive skills. It was a powerful learning practice! 

October is National Principals Month and I encourage our schools to celebrate school leaders in special ways this month. Take a step back and make the time to reflect on the work of your principal (and assistant principals, too) and what you appreciate about their leadership. A special school always has a special principal at its helm. Mahalo, principals!