Possible Takeover of Schools Spurs Student-Centered Activists to Action

Graphic by Emily Metcalf
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Graphic by Emily Metcalf

BY JORENE BARUT – Only the strong survive and the Windward Castle Complex schools won’t surrender to a takeover without a fight. A new force of community members, lawmakers, students and educators has begun training to create an alternative to possible reconstitution. A takeover, or reconstitution, could mean the firing of principals and teachers, starting at Castle High School, which has historically struggled with poor academic achievement.

Recent legislation authorizes state Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi to reconstitute a failing school.

The 60-strong Redesign team has seven months left to generate a plan for implementation in July 2012. The meeting in Kaneohe was the first official gathering for those who committed to join the Redesign Initiative. The concept of reinventing the antiquated 150-year-old education system was introduced to 70 diverse, handpicked community members last September.


Hawaii State Senator Jill Tokuda; Kylee Mar, associate director of Punahou School’s Clarence T.C. Ching PUEO Program; and Kathy Kahikini, board chair of Kahaluu Neighborhood Board are three members who have committed to the Redesign team.

“Reconstitution is a strong possibility particularly for Castle High School and it is a very unattractive alternative,” said Lea Albert, Castle Complex Area Superintendent, who spearheads the taskforce. “Reconstitution could be part of the design.”

At the meeting Oct. 27, the volunteer visionaries trained for nearly two hours in techniques to effectively gather data from community resources. Among the methods presented and practiced were interviewing and making observations from “talking story” with people; engaging networks with which they are associated and sharing feedback with the team; and collecting facts such as demographics, best practice, global trends and historic school information.

Although the undertaking centers on the Windward schools, takeovers may affect other Hawaii public schools that face similar challenges. Reconstitution and school-district shutdowns have already occurred on the mainland.  This Oahu Redesign Initiative serves as a prototype to prevent such an event.

Overall, the goal is to redesign and reinvent education at Castle High School to embrace best global practices, incorporate the unique assets of Hawaii’s people, and engage students and the community in planning and implementation. There is no uniform formula yet but there have been successful Redesign Initiatives in Boston, Colorado and Finland. “They found a way,” said Marlene Zeug, Castle Complex Redesign Initiative Process Manager.

“Our educational system was never designed to deliver the kind of results we need to equip our students for today’s world,” Zeug added. “We’re using an 18th-century model for 21st-century kids.”

The result is many students who are unprepared for college and career. Nationally, only about 70 percent of high school students who start ninth grade in public schools graduate. Castle High School’s graduation rate mirrors that number. In the U.S., nearly 50 percent of Hispanic and black students do not graduate. In Hawaii, 7 percent of students are Hispanic or black. Nationwide, 63 percent of high school graduates do not have college plans. In a society that grows more competitive, employers are increasingly expecting new hires to have skills comparable to those of college graduates.

“Learning requires greater supports in our changing society,” Zeug said, adding that students’ inadequate preparation for successful transition from high school to college academics is growing more alarming each year.

Feeling unsure, nervous and even scared about diving into unchartered waters, the volunteers are keeping focused on the end result – competent students who are college- and career-ready, and equipped to compete with other industrialized nations. Keith Matsumoto, technical director of Design Thinking Hawaii, facilitated the meeting’s training exercises.

Design Thinking is a process that was developed and is utilized throughout Stanford University. It approaches problem solving by creating shifts in perception; teaching people to consider others’ points of view; demanding radical, creative yet realistic outside-the-box thinking; and involving end users, or students. Design Thinking Hawaii will guide the Redesign project, which keeps students front and center, and requires student input.

The next meeting will be held Nov. 17, when the team presents its interview and data-gathering findings, and proceeds to the next planning phase.


Jorene Barut is an Education Journalist for the Hawaii State Department of Education – Windward District