SEPT. 1, 2018


Promoting A Positive School Culture Leads to Success

Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Toronto studied 180 schools across nine states and concluded, “We have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership.”

In other words, school principals have a direct impact on student achievement and teaching success. Principals are the leaders that drive performance much like a well-run company.

Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, performance on national standardized tests have placed additional pressure on principals beyond traditional expectations of maintaining higher graduation rates, running daily operations; and at some schools (mostly private) hiring of teachers and making budgetary decisions.

All these responsibilities fall under the tent of a principal’s job description, as well as many other areas such as boosting teachers’ morale and staff harmony. It’s a heavy workload; and it’s no wonder that statistics show principals have a high burn out rate and quit their positions in four years or less, despite the fact that principals are well paid in most school systems.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the average salary of principals in Elementary, Middle and High School is $94,390 per year (based on 2017).

Building school culture

Perhaps the most effective blueprint for principals achieving their goals is to build a school culture of positivity. Students and teachers’ attitude and mind-set are crucial to success. How students feel about going to school and about their classroom setting (air condition or not, classmates’ behavior, etc.) are very much a part of building a positive school culture.

In dealing with staff, a nurturing culture means giving teachers freedom to teach their courses the way they want to, but at the same time, ensuring that they meet student performance standards. Collaborative power-sharing between principals and staff go a long way.

Interaction is essential. Studies have found that successful principals make frequent visits to classrooms. They are highly energetic, optimistic, and project an attitude that they sincerely care for students and teachers.

Successful principals are determined professionals. And high among their goals should be: first to change students’ lives through inspiration, then second, to enhance and maintain a school’s standards. The former, when done effectively, leads to the latter.

Superintendents (who oversee public school principals) and CEO’s/board of directors (who oversee private school principals) ought to extend to their principals patience and liberal autonomy should they believe in their employee’s vision. The high turn over rate among principals disrupts stability.

About 20 percent of principals nationwide leave their jobs each year which cannot be effective in building a positive school culture. Another study by New Leaders found that 20 percent of first-year principals leave their positions within two years.

Research suggests that it takes at least five to seven years for a principal to effectively have his or her vision and policies implemented, and to see success. Continuity in leadership matters, along with all the effort that go into recruitment, training and support of principals.

Emphasis on data and curriculum that drive students’ performance on national tests – the new standard by which principals are judged – is a hard bottom line to meet at times. Still, it is perhaps the right direction to continue to move towards given the practical nature of performance tests in higher education.

It’s a tricky situation in that performance tests do not necessarily determine future success and perhaps is given overweighed emphasis. But until reform is made in the overall educational system from universities down to K-grade that readjusts this emphasis on standardized tests, principals have little choice in the matter but to support curriculum that focuses on data-type performance.

Dr. Kyle Atabay

Damien Memorial School has made an excellent choice in the hiring of Dr. Kyle Atabay as its principal. An alumnus of Damien, a former vice principal at Kamehameha Schools’ Kapalama Middle School, he knows the school culture at Damien and the private school educational system. We wish him tremendous success on his new journey.

He joins a short list of other retired and current principals of Filipino ancestry. Most notable among them is Darrel Galera, a former MetLife National Association of Secondary School Principals Hawaii High School Principal of the Year.

The diversity aspect of hiring more Filipino principals must also be addressed. While there are no statistics that track the number of principals by ethnicity, the underrepresented number of teachers of Filipino ancestry suggests the same is true for principals.

Diversity is important for obvious reasons; and Hawaii’s Department of Education ought to tap the expertise and talents of qualified Filipino professionals in the educational system; and encourage more of them to consider becoming principals.

More Filipino students in higher education should also be encouraged to pursue a profession in education.


The Press is Not the Enemy of the People

Benjamin Franklin in 1722 wrote, “Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech.”

James Madison in 1789 introduced the freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States. He said, “The freedom of the Press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments.”

Journalism historically has been integral to the checks and balances of power in a healthy functioning democracy that it has widely been looked upon as the fourth power, or commonly known as the “Fourth Estate,” overseeing the Presidency, Congress, and Judiciary.

Defending the Free Press

In wake of the antagonism and vitriol directed at the media largely led by President Donald Trump, the U.S. Senate and hundreds of newspapers recently took a courageous stand to defend freedom of the press.

Senate Resolution: First, Hawaii’s own U.S. Senator Brian Schatz and two of his colleagues Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced a resolution affirming Congress’ support for the First Amendment and free press. The resolution rightly passed.

“We swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, including the First Amendment,” said Senator Schatz. “Every senator upheld that oath by sending a message that we support the First Amendment, and we support the freedom of the press in the face of these attacks. As Thomas Jefferson put it, ‘our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.’ ”

Newspapers stand in Solidarity: Responding to the false label of being the enemy of the American people and false accusations of spreading fake news, more than 300 newspapers across the nation published editorials on August 16 to address Trump’s undermining of the free press.

Hawaii’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser was among the newspapers along with the New York Times participating in the day of protest.

The campaign was organized by the Boston Globe which wrote on that day: “We have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the ‘enemy of the people.’

“This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president, much like an old-time charlatan threw out ‘magic’ dust or water on a hopeful crowd.”

A few of the largest newspapers – the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle – decided not to participate in the day of protest expressing their independence. But they have been critical writing editorials on their own time of Trump’s attempts to diminish the free press.

Trump tweeted in defiance on the same morning the editorials ran: “The Globe is in collusion with other papers on free press” and that many of the media are “pushing a political agenda.”

We are in extraordinary times

Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and the free press is fighting for much more than their individual reputations, but fighting for all Americans, whether they are from the left or right, politically. The disturbing hands-off role the Republican-led Congress has taken in dealing with Trump’s autocratic tendencies makes it even more imperative that the free press challenge the President when needed. Historically, the press has always kept politicians in line, holding them accountable.

The most insidious danger of constantly discrediting the free press as the President has been doing is that his false criticisms weaken the credibility of the press and their role of guardians of democracy.

In fairness to Trump, he isn’t the first president to criticize the media. Nor should the media be immune from criticism. But his incessant undermining and crude attacks is unlike any president before him. When he first labeled the media as “the enemy of the American people” just one month after taking office, it signaled troubled times ahead. His excessive use of “fake” (a CNN analysis said Trump has used it more than 400 times) is dangerously irresponsible.

Just to protect his own interests and his own presidency, Trump is willing to tear down institutions like the nation’s intelligence arm and the media. The “fake” label thrown at the free press will probably stick long after Trump leaves office and likely be used by others politically.

A danger ahead, a point to where we must not reach, is systematic widespread violence against members of the free press much like foreign journalists encounter. Murder and intimidation are systematically used against professional journalists in many undemocratic parts of the world. In other countries, the press is muzzled and staff often killed.

In 2018, there has been 31 cases of journalists attacked in the U.S. In June this year, five employees were killed in a Capital Gazette newsroom in Maryland. U.S. journalists report of being threatened. MSNBC’s Katy Tur said she and her female colleagues have received threatening letters. One of them, said “I hope you get raped and killed, signed with MAGA, short for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

We all have a stake in this fight to protect the free press. Remember: the free press is working for you, the people, the governed -- not those who govern or Trump.


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