Note: This is the last in a three-part series that tells the story of an elementary school principal removed from her post due to parents protesting in the parking lot.
Step one, done.
That’s what the Save Hanalei School group said about Superintendent Bill Arakaki’s decision to remove Hanalei Elementary principal Lisa McDonald from the school effective yesterday.
“We are grateful that Arakaki decided to make the right decision and reassign Ms. McDonald and we wish her all the best,” said Julie Mai, the parent of a first grade student at Hanalei. “Our goal was new and better leadership.”
McDonald has been reassigned to the district office pending an investigation after three days of sign-holding rallies at the entrance of the school’s parking lot.
That group is accusing McDonald of mismanagement, making unethical choices, and not following through with federally mandated requirements, like 504 plans, which provide an outline of help kids with special needs should receive. They are also unhappy with her communication style and are accusing her of not listening to the needs and wants of the teachers.
Superintendent Bill Arakaki is also accused of ignoring more than a year’s worth of requests to look into the situation at the school.
“Concerns brought to my attention about the school and its administration are being looked into on a priority basis.” Arakaki said in a statement to The Garden Island on Monday. “Although I am unable to disclose specific details of my discuss, recommendations and actions, please know the matter is of high priority.”
Reiko Beralas, vice principal from Kapaa Middle School, is set to step into the principal’s shoes temporarily on Wednesday, Sept. 16.
Staff at the Hanalei Elementary School refused to comment.
While there had been dissatisfaction brewing for over a year, it all came to the surface at the beginning of the current school year, when McDonald was faced with a bigger kindergarten class than anticipated.
She decided to create a combination class of kindergarten and first grade students to even out class sizes and she appointed one of her first grade teachers, Sarah Purcell, as the K/1 combo teacher.
“The lower education teachers came up with at least three other options for solving the problem” Purcell said. “The K/1 [combo class] solution was something that no teacher agreed to.”
Purcell said due to the size of her classroom and the curriculum available, the combination class should never have been created.
“There is curriculum for combo classes in the older grades, but with a K/1 combo class, no curriculum exists,” Purcell said.
She resigned from the school on September 8 because she didn’t feel she had adequate resources to do her job.
“All [creating that combo class] really did was look good on paper, it made every class size at 18 to 20 children,” Purcell said, “but it wouldn’t work out. The [biggest] problem is that there isn’t enough time in the day.”
Purcell said her schedule in her first grade classroom was tight and the idea of adding more classes into an already full day was impossible.
“In the morning, I teach language arts, writing and math and I barely have enough time to get those lessons in before lunch time,” Purcell said. “I’d have to teach six lessons and there’s not enough time.”
Purcell said it was suggested that she teach half of a lesson to each grade level in order to accommodate all of the students.
“I refuse to do that, because it’s unfair,” Purcell said. “My first graders deserve a full first grade curriculum, as do the kindergartners.”
The Save the Hanalei School group held a rally on Monday thanking the community for their support and Arakaki for his response, but they haven’t reached their ultimate goal quite yet.
“Parents are happy and hopeful about [McDonald’s reassignment], but we’re focusing on rectifying the K/1 combo class situation and then we can turn our focus back to learning,” said Ashley Jones, who has been instrumental in the group since the beginning.
As a form of continued protest, parents of the first grade kids who are in the K/1 combo class are keeping their children home.
“The thirteen of us that have first graders in that class, we won’t be sending kids back to school until they get the curriculum right and the kids are back with their teacher, Sarah Purcell,” Mai said. “We now need to address the issue of getting our keiki back in school.”
Deborah Stryker, whose grandson is also a first grader in the combo class, said he’s going on seven days out of school.
“It’s unstable. They have no curriculum and they only have a substitute teacher,” Stryker said. “We have to get [the kids] back in a place with a perfect environment and with the teacher they came to love.”
Purcell said she’s on board with that demand.
“I want that as well,” Purcell said. “I just want to go back to teaching my kids.”
Jones said the parent teacher student association and a few parents have requested a meeting with Arakaki to hear his plans for the next step, but scheduling a meeting hasn’t been as easy as they hoped.
“We feel like he has the ability to make a call on this issue and to move forward as early as tomorrow, but he felt his schedule was too busy to meet with him today,” Jones said on Monday. “He told us to check his schedule with his secretary and find a time we can meet.”
The other goal the group is highlighting is their desire for the community to be involved in the selection of Hanalei Elementary School’s next principal. The way to do that, they say, is through community meetings like the ones they held last week before their rallies.
“It’s time for the Ohana community and the powers that be within the board of education and the superintendent to work together and work out a consensus for the greater good,” Stryker said. “We can make this an example of how to make the best decisions possible with open doors, open communication and speaking honestly.”
Article written and photo taken for The Garden Island Newspaper, September 2015.
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