It’s one thing to hear King Kamehemeha III Elementary School Principal Steve Franz touting the efforts of his teachers for the school’s impressive academic performance in recent years.
It’s another to hear it from the students.
A “shout outs” display board in the school’s hallway is filled with more than 100 Post-it notes in neon purple, blue, pink and green. Students penned their heartfelt messages to their teachers there:
“Thank you Miss Coonradt for being the best teacher ever and being so kind.”
“Ms. Aure is one of the most fun teachers in the history of the world!”
“Mrs. Tumpap I love you and how you made us grow.”
“Thank you Ms. Wimmer for being my teacher because you always have fun with us. You have courage and I know you love us.”
Principal Franz says teachers and staff at the Lahaina school never lose sight of why they’re there and who they serve.
“What drives adults is a purpose. You’re going to be passionate, enthusiastic and work hard if what you’re doing is something you want to do, if you’re remembering every day that this is what you were meant to do, this is what you enjoy doing,” said Franz, who’s been leading Kamehameha III since 2008.
“That to me is what helps make the school function and the school be successful. Each individual is taking ownership,” he said.
Franz, who previously taught at the school, says the academic achievement piece falls into place when everyone’s accountable and motivated to do what’s best for students.
The school’s Strive HI numbers show students are outpacing the state’s average test scores in language arts, math and science.
“I don’t put a lot of emphasis on test scores, personally,” Franz said. “We try to encourage our teachers by saying, ‘Let’s just do what’s best for kids,’ and the results will take care of themselves. And they have. We keep growing in the right direction.”
The number of Kamehameha III students testing proficient in language arts increased 4 percentage points to 61 percent from 2015 to 2017. That’s 10 points higher than the state average for language arts that year, and 16 points higher than the average for the Hana-Lahainaluna-Lanai-Molokai Complex Area.
In math, the school’s overall proficiency level went up 8 percentage points to 52 percent over the same three-year period. Science proficiency, meanwhile, climbed by 8 percentage points to 61 percent.
Situated along Lahaina’s historic Front Street, Kamehameha III is one of two elementary schools serving West Maui, one of the state’s major tourism-dependent areas.
Here’s a breakdown of the student body:
- There are 730 students, with just under half of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.
- Roughly 50 students are in special education programs.
- Some 180 students have limited English proficiency. A total of 19 different languages are spoken among the school’s English Language Learners or ELL students, with Spanish being the largest language group, followed by Filipino.
- Sixty-four percent of students learning English are on track to English language proficiency, according to the school’s latest Strive HI data.
- Sixty-six percent of third-graders are reading near, at or above grade level.
First-grade teacher Kathleen Royer credits the school’s use of small-group instruction for the academic gains. She says the approach helps ensure “every kid is getting what they need at their level.”
“One of the things we’ve really focused on is giving everybody the same standard and content, but scaffolding it to their needs,” she said, “so that a third-grader who might be a special education student is still working at the same third-grade standard but they have a modification.”
ELL teacher Mandy Michimoto said the small group setting holds teachers accountable for all students, whether they are general education, special education or ELL teachers.
“It’s not like, ‘This is your kid. This is my kid.’ They’re all of our students,” Michimoto said.
Teachers schoolwide also implement social-emotional learning to introduce students to concepts around conflict resolution, empathy and self esteem. “They’re learning how to relate to their peers in healthy ways,” Royer said.
Character education is reinforced through “Words of Wisdom” in the school’s daily morning broadcast.
“They learn about patience and other virtues and we talk about it in the class and it applies to our Na Ali‘i Pledge. I think we do a really good job of just helping them be good people,” Royer said. (The Na Ali‘i Pledge is the school’s motto: “I am Safe. I am Kind. I am Responsible.”)
Teachers also say the perception around achievement has changed as schools have transitioned away from the outdated federal No Child Left Behind law — which required that all students meet increasing proficiency benchmarks annually — and toward a growth model that values progress.
“Now we’re looking for a good amount of growth,” Royer said. “Whether you get ‘proficient’ in your grade level or not, as long as you’re growing, that’s what we’re looking for. I think that helps kids feel better, too, and instills perseverance to keep at it.”
Michimoto added, “When I test my kids and show them their progress, I don’t say, ‘Here you are and here’s where you’re supposed to be.’ No, it’s, ‘Here’s where you were and here’s where you are now. Wow, look at the progress you’ve made.’”
She said she believes the progress of her ELL students is all the more commendable because unlike students in English-speaking households, most ELL students don’t have English-speaking parents or family members to help them at home.
“So they’re doing this on their own,” Michimoto said. “They’re all making progress, and that’s what the goal is.”
To help foster a positive learning environment, Principal Franz said the school does “lots of little things with purpose.” For example, the school two years ago revisited and revised its vision statement.
“The idea was to get at why do you come to work every day and how do we write that into our vision statement,” Franz said. “It took a lot of work but we came up with our vision, which is: Empowering students to improve the future.”
“That’s become what we ask ourselves: What are we doing today to empower our students? How do we give them the skills, the abilities, the talents — wherever they’re at — to do that?” he added.
While the school continues to make strides, Franz acknowledges there’s always room for improvement.
One area of focus is narrowing the achievement gap between high-needs students and their non-high needs peers. “High needs” is a broad category that includes students who receive special education services, English Language Learners, and/or economically disadvantaged students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Fifty-one percent of the school’s high-needs students tested proficient in language arts last school year, while their non-high needs peers overall were at 77 percent proficiency. In math, the rates were 38 percent and 74 percent, respectively, for high-needs and non-high needs students.
“Those gaps are a challenge to close. We just have to keep working on it,” Franz said. “Where ever they’re at, our goal is to get them better.”