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by Pearl Hahn

In June 2007, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty surprised the nation when he selected Michelle Rhee, seen as an unlikely choice, as chancellor of the capitol’s public schools. In doing so, he sent a signal that it would not be business as usual in the district. Problems plaguing the D.C. system may sound familiar; despite top-dollar per-pupil spending, students perform at the bottom of the nation.

The culprit is also nothing new. A looming bureaucracy serves itself at the expense of promising youth. But upon taking the helm, Rhee shook the establishment. She fired dozens of school principals, mostly from closing or restructuring schools, igniting the fury of school union members in the process. The public school where she chose to enroll her own children, Oyster-Adams, was also not spared. Reportedly, Rhee had dined with parents of children enrolled at Oyster-Adams and took note of aired complaints ranging from the principal’s lack of organization to her brusque style. She was removed that summer.

Now, Superintendent Hamamoto has expressed her desire to replace staff at public schools failing to meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements. Dozens of schools in the state have repeatedly fallen short of NCLB goals. Yet there are many people, including Hamamoto herself, who refers to reconstitution of schools as an “extreme” measure.

Federal School Improvement Grants are set to be available to states in the near future, translating to up to $1.5 million per school. As the DOE is keeping a vigilant eye on potential additional funding, is it really more funding that they need? Compared to the cost of maintaining the status quo, reconstitution of educational staff is a bargain that could bring real change to Hawaii’s public schools.

Pearl can be reached at pearl@grassrootinstitute.org