Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Law snarls schedules for crowded campuses

Multitrack schools might not be able to comply with a new requirement for 180 days of classes

By Mary Vorsino


Four multitrack schools with more than 1,000 students each are considering options -- from shortening winter break to sending scores of students to other campuses -- to comply with a new state law that requires a minimum of 180 instructional days next school year.

Department of Education officials are also looking at the possibility of lengthening the school day, saying the large campuses might be able to meet the intent of the law by offering more instruction each day.

Ronn Nozoe, the department's acting deputy superintendent, said the options for extending the school year at multitrack schools are not going to be popular among parents "by any stretch of the imagination."

Principals and registrars from multitrack schools and other department administrators have been meeting to propose solutions for the large-enrollment campuses, all of which serve communities expected to continue to grow in the next several years.

The options they are researching include:

» Shortening winter break.

» Converting multitrack schools to regular, single-track schools, which would require more teachers and more portable classrooms.

» Moving sixth-graders at multitrack middle schools back to elementary schools.

» Redrawing district lines that determine which school a student attends, as a way to decrease enrollment.

The group is expected to complete a report for the Board of Education as early as this month.

"We're going to do our best to comply with the letter and the intent of the law," said Nozoe, adding that the department has not yet decided whether to also seek an exception to the law for the schools in the upcoming legislative session.

"We're not there yet," Nozoe said.

Multitrack schools have always had shorter instructional years because of their unique schedules, aimed at coping with overcrowding by having at least one "track," or group of students, on vacation at any given time.

Mililani Middle School, on a three-track schedule, has 152 instructional days this year. Last year there were 141 instructional days, when teacher furlough days further cut the school year.

The other multitracks -- Kapolei Elementary and Middle schools and Holomua Elementary School -- each have about 170 instructional days.

By comparison, regular public schools have 178 instructional days this school year.

State Rep. Roy Takumi, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he would support an exemption to the law for multitrack schools if the campuses meet the intent of the measure by lengthening the school day.

But an exemption is likely to be met with some public opposition.

Melanie Bailey, who protested teacher furloughs at the state Capitol with hundreds of other parents last school year and worked alongside lawmakers to write the 180-day law, opposes an exception.

She said multitrack schools need to ensure they are providing the same education as other public schools.

"How can we say that a child who goes to a multitrack should get less instructional time?" said Bailey, a candidate for the Board of Education. "How are they supposed to compete with children on the mainland? It's not preparing them."

DEPARTMENT officials say they are researching the possibility of adding 10 to 20 minutes to the school day at multitracks to make up for the shorter year.

As written, the new law requires public schools to offer at least 180 instructional days in the 2011-12 school year.

The new law also requires elementary schools to have at least 915 hours of instruction (which averages to about a five-hour day) in the 2011-12 school year, while middle and high schools will have to have 990 hours of instruction (or about a 5 1/2 -hour day).

In the 2013-14 school year, all schools must have 180 instructional days but increase their instructional time to 1,080 hours (or a six-hour day on average).

The law was signed in June in the wake of furloughs that left Hawaii teachers with the shortest school calendar in the nation.

The 17 furlough days decreased the total number of instructional days to 163.

Hawaii was the last state in the country to mandate a minimum amount of instructional time for public schools, but educators were unclear yesterday on whether most states make exceptions for multitracks. It appears at least a few states have, however.

Principals at multitrack schools say they are certain many -- if not all -- of the options to increase instructional days will be met with resistance from parents.

"We would hope they would grant us an exception," said Michael Miyamura, principal of Kapolei Elementary, who favors lengthening the school day instead of the school year.

"Instruction is first and foremost in my mind," he said.

Dana Kobashigawa, acting principal at Kapolei Middle School, also supports a longer school day and said a longer school year would "affect us big time" and require some tough choices for the school and parents.

"It's huge for us," she said.

The discussion on extending the school year for multitracks comes as Mililani Middle School is already planning a major shift.

The school will go on a four-track schedule next school year, from a three-track.

Mililani Middle Principal Elynne Chung said the change will not be easy.

It will mean class sizes will grow from an average of 25 to 30 students, because more students will be on campus at once.

Students could also lose some options for electives, or teachers could lose planning time.

The school has about 1,750 students, and on any given day there are about 1,200 on campus.

With the switch to four tracks, the school will have about 1,350 students on campus daily.

To accommodate the increased population, the school plans to bring in more security and hire at least two more teachers.

Chung said switching to a four-track, which has been in the planning stages for more than a year, will boost the school year by 19 days. "Change is always hard for people," she said. "For me it's what's good for kids."

Melyssa Shimamoto, president of the Mililani Middle Parent Teacher Student Organization and the school's parent community networking center specialist, said some parents are concerned about the larger classroom sizes with the switch.

But she said it also appears many support a longer school year.

"The 19 days is going to be best for our students," she said. "That is first and foremost in everyone's minds."

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