Friday, August 21, 1998

Popular school
program gets
green light

The Connections system keeps students
together as they go up the grades

By Debra Barayuga

A popular, 3-year-old program at a Big Island school that promotes smaller schools as better is back on track.

Classes at Mountain View will begin Wednesday instead of Monday to give teachers time to reshuffle students and decide how it will fill a teaching position, said Hawaii district schools Superintendent Pat Bergin.

Students who had participated in Connections, a more personal school within a school where students have the same classmates each year, had been reassigned to different classes at the close of the 1997-98 school year after the principal announced in April that he was going to end the program.

The interim schools superintendent yesterday overruled Principal Clifton Iwamoto's decision, which he again reaffirmed at a school/community-based council meeting Wednesday.

Parents and community members had been trying to revive the program despite Iwamoto's decision and were hoping a resolution could be reached at Wednesday's meeting. While saying it was a difficult decision to make, Al Suga, who presided over his last board meeting as interim schools superintendent, said last night that he saw "no real value in having the program suspended after three years" of apparent success.

"I think the bottom line is what is right for the kids," Suga said.

To continue the program this year, the school must define the outcomes they are working toward, develop a way to measure progress and do an in-depth evaluation at the end of the year.

Last night, parents and teachers were elated at the turn of events and praised Suga's decision. "We're ecstatic," said John Thatcher, a teacher in Connections.

"If we would have lost our program, we would have probably given up trying reform. A lot of us were at the end of our rope."

More than 60 people attended the Wednesday council meeting in hopes a compromise would be reached.

Iwamoto's stand on the issue remained unchanged after nearly four hours of testimony and open discussion among parents and teachers both in and outside Connections.

Supporters say they hope the program will be re-established as before, with the same group of teachers who started with the program three years ago.

Among Connections' strengths were teachers who worked closely to plan a curriculum that built on what students learned each year and keeping the same group of children together as they move up the grades.

Thatcher said one of the teachers has since been reassigned to a different grade level, and contended it is imperative to the program that she be reinstated.

Another concern is whether parents again will be allowed to choose whether they want their child to participate in Connections, he said.

"Striving to achieve mediocrity doesn't make sense," said Mountain View parent Sandy Schaffer, who was happy to hear his son will continue in the Connections for his fourth year.

"We are kind of low on the totem pole education-wise in the nation. It seemed to me if they don't move forward with some new programs, it will send a message to teachers that if you try to do something like this, this is what will happen."

1998 Honolulu Star-Bulletin