Protesting the principal

Note: This is one of three stories chronicling the removal of a Hanalei Elementary Principal from her post due to parents protesting outside the school. 

Lisa McDonald, Hanalei Elementary School principal, stood outside of the school Thursday morning, shoulder-to-shoulder with Superintendent Bill Arakaki, watching protesters line the entrance to the parking lot.

The group of around 65 people, held signs that said things like “new leader now”, “Lisa must go”, and “we need answers”.

The protesters are part of a group of teachers, parents and community members who are unhappy with the decisions and leadership style of Principal McDonald. They’ve held two community meetings, one on Monday and a second on Wednesday to discuss the matter. More than 50 people attended each of the meetings.

“It’s horrifying [to see them out there],” McDonald said. “I knew there were concerns, but I thought that we were on a good path.”

McDonald is in her second year as principal of the school, and has drawn criticism almost the entire time for various decisions she has made. Members of the protest said the bottom line is that they think McDonald isn’t qualified to be the principal and they cite a list of alleged mismanagements and lack of communication instances they say proves it.

“Our intention is for her to step down on her own, or for the superintendents to do their job and remove her from the school,” said Katherine Wilson, current vice president of the parent teacher student association. “Our children have a right to a good education and leadership and it’s not happening.”

The group alleges that they’ve been contacting Arakaki via phone and written letters for over a year, informing him of the problem and asking him to help, with no response.

“Last year we sent over 30 written letters to Mr. Arakaki and he never responded to one of them,” said Missy Hedstrom, mother of two children in the school. “Nobody is listening to us and it’s frustrating for our community.”

Arakaki, however, said he’s working toward an educated decision.

“I am continuing to gather information from teachers, parents and community members regarding their concerns,” Arakaki said in a statement to The Garden Island. “I must be thorough when it involves employee matters before making a final decision.”

The main concern in the first year of McDonald’s time as principal was her communication style.

“She’s been described as rude and disrespectful,” Wilson said.

The group also alleges that McDonald uses “inappropriate disciplinary tactics” and “only punitive measures of management”.

“She doesn’t listen to her staff,” Hedstrom said. “You’re supposed to lead people, not be a dictator.”

Communication issues

An example of communication breakdown at the school and one of the points of contention is this year’s kindergarten and first grade combination class.

“There were some concerns expressed last school year, which we worked to resolve,” McDonald said. “Unfortunately, my recent decision to create a K/1 combination class has triggered some of the previous feelings to resurface.”

The issue stems from a decision last year to hire a curriculum coordinator, which was discussed in a faculty meeting. In that meeting, some say McDonald agreed to terminate the curriculum coordinator position and hire a third kindergarten teacher if the class sizes got too big.

There is no record of what was actually said at that faculty meeting.

McDonald says she did not agree to terminate the position and that hiring a curriculum coordinator was supported by a mentor from the New Principal Academy, as well as Arakaki.

“One of the issues is that we weren’t taking minutes at the faculty meetings,” McDonald said. “We’re taking minutes now, so at least that’ll be taken care of.”

At the beginning of the current school year, the kindergarten class swelled in size, pushing the enrollment number to 45 — which is fourteen more kindergarten students than the projected number, according to McDonald.

She said she created the combo class to accommodate the influx of students because the school doesn’t have the funds or the space for an additional kindergarten class.

“The kindergartners that were put into that class were hand selected and ready for that,” McDonald said.

The teacher, Sarah Purcell, however, wasn’t ready for it. She turned her resignation in on Tuesday.

“She didn’t want to teach that, “ McDonald said, “so now we’ll have to find somebody that wants to teach that.”

Protesters allege that the teacher who resigned wasn’t receiving proper support and instructional materials. They also say she wasn’t given enough time to set up her classroom.

Purcell couldn’t be reached for comment at press time.

504 Plans

Another of the group’s claims has to do with 504 plans. Those outline ways to address specific challenges that kids face within the special education department.

Wilson and Hedstrom claim last year there were students in the special education department with 504 plans that didn’t receive services. Schools can’t provide a lot of information on the topic because of confidentiality rules.

“This is a federally mandated civil rights violation,” Hedstrom said. “Six weeks into school this year, and they are yet to receive services due to a lack of the principal’s scheduling.”

The creation of a kindergarten and first grade combo class at the beginning of this school year is an example of the communication issues within the staff at Hanalei Elementary.

The group of protesting community members addressed and the purpose of the protest was to get answers and motivate those in control to action.

“They might be listening, but they’re not doing anything,” Hedstrom said. “We needed to make a public statement because our principal is unethical and incompetent.”

Arakaki said his goal is to resolve the problem quickly.

“I understand the urgency in resolving the situation,” Arakaki said in his press statement. “I ask for everyone’s continued patience and understanding as a resolution is decided in the best interest of all students at Hanalei Elementary School and stakeholders involved.”

Article written and photos taken for The Garden Island Newspaper, September 2015.  

See the rest of the story:

Part 2 — Interrupting Education            Part 3 — Principal removed from post



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