Address principals’ concerns



Address principals’ concerns

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 21, 2014

Hawaii’s statewide Board of Education will be making a grave mistake if it allows the leadership of the Department of Education to dismiss an independent survey that conveys the dismay of the principals who are actually leading Hawaii’s public schools.

Rather than assuming a defensive posture, state Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi and her leadership team should digest these poll findings with an open mind, and take immediate steps to improve a top-down management structure that, to hear a significant number of principals tell it, is failing to address serious concerns about the sustainability of Race to the Top reforms.

The school board must compel such an honest assessment among the DOE brass. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, as the ultimate arbiter now that Hawaii has an appointed school board, likewise should keep the importance of school-level empowerment high on his radar, lest the negative factors detailed in the survey go uncorrected and derail Hawaii’s public schools from much-needed academic improvement.

Educational creativity, innovation and achievement must flourish at the school level, among the students, teachers, principals and parents who have the most at stake. Every school community is different, and programs proven to work at a particular campus should not fall by the wayside in favor of one-size-fits-all formulas.

Moreover, spearheading difficult and lasting school-level reform from a central state office — as the DOE is attempting to do — can succeed over the long term only if the educators actually teaching the students and managing the campuses believe in the overall direction of the school system and trust the leadership at the top. This independent report clearly raises doubts about that, contradictory surveys conducted by the DOE notwithstanding.

Recently retired principal Darrel Galera conducted the principals’ survey online April 18-28, collecting anonymous responses to 13 questions gauging campus morale, resources and other topics. Critics may claim that Galera, who has long promoted school-level autonomy as the surest path to student achievement and was widely praised as principal of Moanalua High School, has an ax to grind now that he’s left the DOE. But Galera used the same method to gather data when he was with the department, and the DOE deemed those findings legitimate; the technique should not be discounted now.

The principals of all 255 regular public schools were emailed a survey invitation, and 160 filled out the poll, a striking 63 percent return rate. Of those who responded, nearly 65 percent said they feel less empowered to make decisions in the best interests of their schools. Nearly 76 percent said they believe that the implementation of Race to the Top reforms, including a new teacher evaluation system, are hurting their schools.

Nearly 66 percent said they could not critique the DOE’s implementation of Race to the Top without “fear of reprisal, retaliation or being unfairly evaluated on my performance evaluation.”

About 22 percent of the principals said at least one of their school’s employees was currently on paid leave and under investigation by the DOE.

The school board must direct DOE leadership to take immediate steps to ease this demoralized climate of fear and empower the principals to be the educational leaders they must be — that’s the only way Hawaii’s students will thrive in the long term. So much attention has been paid to important, statewide Race to the Top directives over the past few years that what principals decried as a steady and alarming decline in school-level autonomy went largely unremarked. In that sense, the principals’ survey serves as a crucial wakeup call. True educational improvement occurs among the grassroots at the school level — not among the number-crunchers at the central office — and confident, innovative, empowered principals are key to that success.

Hearing the principals out will not lead to a wholesale dismantling of Hawaii’s hard-won education reforms, including evaluation systems for teachers and principals. On the contrary, critical feedback is essential to make these systems effective. Obviously, many principals don’t believe their input is welcome at the state office. That’s got to change. It’s time for the DOE to listen.

Principals feel they’re hamstrung, survey finds

They cite the DOE’s “top-down” handling of schools and low morale due to reforms

By Nanea Kalani

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 15, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 03:30 a.m. HST, May 15, 2014

Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL


An overwhelming majority of public school principals who responded to an independent survey about their working conditions say they lack the needed support and autonomy to act in the best interests of their schools, but hesitate to speak out for fear of retaliation.

An independent survey of Hawaii public school principals was administered April 18-28. It consisted of 13 questions and was conducted via personal email addresses.

Number of Hawaii public school principals

Number of principals who responded (113 elementary and 47 secondary)

Percentage of principals who responded

The school leaders say their ability to make decisions at the school level has been stymied by “top-down” management by the Department of Education, and that sweeping academic reforms the state pledged for its federal Race to the Top grant have dragged down morale at their schools.

The anonymous survey was conducted last month by longtime DOE principals Darrel Galera and John Sosa, who both retired in December.

A total of 160 principals responded, representing 63 percent of the principals leading the state’s 255 public schools. The survey found in part:

» 64.4 percent feel less empowered to implement decisions to help their schools.

» 87.7 percent say they don’t have a “system of support” as required by their collective bargaining agreement.

» 75.5 percent feel the implementation of Race to the Top reforms, especially the new performance-based evaluation system for teachers, has negatively impacted their schools.

» 94 percent feel the teacher evaluations have negatively affected morale.

The idea for the survey came about through volunteer consultant work Galera’s been doing with schools and leadership groups since retiring, most recently as acting principal at Castle High School.

“People were informing me of issues and concerns and there were suggestions to collect information because some of the things being said were pretty serious,” said Galera, 55. “We identified some key areas and sent out a survey and it didn’t take very long. Principals seemed very interested in responding and being heard.”

The survey was done informally and anonymously using principals’ personal email addresses, but Galera said, “I stand behind it 1 million percent.”

He and Sosa say the results highlight the need for empowering schools by empowering principals.

“I think principals are crying out,” said Sosa, 71, who retired from Kaiser High School at year-end after 44 years with the DOE. “Study after study after study says empowering schools is really where the change occurs.”

The state Legislature aimed to do just that a decade ago when in 2004 it passed the education-reform law known as Act 51, which in part gave principals more control over school-level spending.

“Today, 10 years later, things are almost in the total opposite direction. The school system is more centralized, principals are less empowered and that definitely has an impact on student learning,” Galera said. “Things won’t change until we change the system so that it’s not top-down with everyone having to fit into a one-size-fits-all approach. Every community is unique and very diverse.”

DOE Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe, a former principal himself, said feedback from the DOE’s most recent survey of principals and vice principals, which is administered annually to all principals, “shows that principals believe that the department is improving and that our strategic direction is the right approach.”

Regarding the complaints that the DOE is too centralized, Nozoe said, “There needs to be clear definitions of success and targets, which is set by the department. However, how a school achieves this is up to the school leaders.”

Galera acknowledged the academic reforms may be well-intended, but “if the changes become more important than the people in the system, it’s going to be counterproductive. In leadership we talk about establishing a positive culture where people feel creative and inspired to work. That’s what I think we need.”

Both principals said they had hoped to put in more years before retiring. In Galera’s case, he left Moanalua High after 13 years to help lead a new principals academy to train new leaders.

“I gave up my school to help the system. It obviously didn’t work. I didn’t have to retire. I’m 55. I loved my job,” he said. “But the concerns in this survey had an impact on my decision to retire, I’ll be honest. Leading a school when things are going well, it’s extremely challenging. When you have to go up against other barriers, it’s demoralizing. And I’m obviously not alone.”

Public school principals who anonymously responded to an independent survey about their working conditions say they lack the needed supports and autonomy to act in the best interests of their schools but fear speaking out. Some of the survey results show:

» 64.4 percent of principals feel less empowered to implement decisions that they feel would be in the best interest of their school

» 75.5 percent of principals feel that the implementation of the Race to the Top and the Educator Effectiveness System (the Department of Education’s new performance-based evaluation system for teachers) has negatively impacted their schools

» 94 percent feel that the Educator Effectiveness Survey has negatively impacted faculty and staff morale

» 65.5 percent of principals state that they are not able to express their concerns for fear of reprisal or retaliation

» 87.7 percent of principals disagree that they have a “system of support” as required by principals’ collective bargaining agreement

Source: “The Voice of Hawaii School Principals” survey To view the survey results and comments click here -> 

Survey critical of new teacher evaluations

Posted: May 14, 2014 5:53 PM HST
Updated: May 15, 2014 10:33 AM HST
By Jim Mendoza

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An independently done survey of Hawaii’s public school principals criticizes the Department of Education’s new teacher evaluations. Seventy-five percent of the 160 principals who filled out the survey said the Educator Effectiveness System has had a negative impact on their schools.

“We’re hearing things like it takes three hours at the minimum to do an evaluation for one teacher. If you have a hundred teachers at your high school, that’s a lot of hours,” retired Kaiser High School principal John Sosa said.

Sosa and retired Moanalua High School principal Darrel Galera created the survey

It shows 94 percent of responding principals believe that implementing the teacher evaluation system has hurt faculty and staff morale, while 78 percent said it’s taken time away from preparing students for the new national test.

Galera said it’s a step back, not a step ahead.

“I’m going to use the word embarrassing in terms of not keeping up with what the leading districts across the country are doing,” he said.

But DOE Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe said the new teacher evaluations will be adjusted over time, and the survey doesn’t reflect that.

“The way things have been characterized, it really doesn’t validate the hard work that people have done to do the work so we can look at the data and make the improvements,” he said.

Over 65 percent of the principals who responded also said they fear the DOE will retaliate if they complain.

“There’s been threats. There’s been compliance. There’s been, ‘You have to meet these deadlines or else,’” Galera said.

“That starts creating this atmosphere—one where people say, ‘We better not say much or we better not question, because if we do then bad things can happen,’” Sosa said.

Nozoe said that’s not true.

“We’ve built our system different from other places where they’re trying to fire people and get rid of them,” he said. “We want to build our capacity.”

The survey was conducted over a ten-day period last month. The results are being sent to the Board of Education and state School Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

To view the survey results and comments click here ->