Honokaa High principal under fire

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The Hawaii State Teachers Association alleges that teachers at Honokaa High and Intermediate School have been assigned to teach classes next year for which they are not qualified.

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The Hawaii State Teachers Association alleges that teachers at Honokaa High and Intermediate School have been assigned to teach classes next year for which they are not qualified.

HSTA President Wil Okabe said Thursday that he had filed a grievance with the Department of Education and would be sending representatives to the school next week to investigate teachers’ claims that certified teachers are being asked to teach classes outside of the realm of their certifications.

“It’s about certified teachers teaching outside their certified lines,” he said. “That’s the concern. It’s about not having qualified teachers in specific areas. We’re very concerned. You want highly qualified teachers teaching in areas that they are certified to be teaching in.

“If you have a teacher certified in English, you want them teaching English, not math.”

Honokaa Principal Marcella McClelland said Thursday that she was not permitted to discuss many details of the issue because of constraints placed on her by the state’s collective bargaining agreements with the HSTA. However, she did say that some teachers have been asked to teach subjects in which they have not earned their certification.

“We have had some vacancies created midyear because of retirements or resignations, or because of people taking jobs elsewhere. That does create vacancies and we don’t have a pool of qualified teachers to fill those positions,” she said.

At a School Community Council meeting on Monday, teachers also alleged that there are unlicensed teachers teaching at Honokaa, but McClelland said those positions are part of a training program called Teach for America, which allows educators to teach at a school and receive their licenses through the program.

Okabe explained that the HSTA had opted to take the “very rare” step of filing the grievance because placing teachers in classrooms where they are not prepared to teach can have adverse impacts on students and the teachers’ performance assessments. Since teacher performance is linked to their compensation, that means the moves can impact teachers’ paychecks.

“But I think the key issue is about the students,” he said. “Making sure they have qualified teachers and making sure they have a teacher licensed in the subject area they’re teaching. Ultimately, it helps the student.” A DOE spokesman declined to comment on the grievance, citing it as a personnel matter.

Honokaa teacher Miles Okumura, who has taught a special motivation class for at-risk youth at the school since 2001, said that he learned recently that McClelland would be moving him into special education.

“She’s moving me out into a different field,” he said Thursday.

“That’s wacky. She says she’s doing it because she needs someone to fill a spot, but the under-the-table reason is because she’s mad at me. I’m the teacher representative on the SCC, I’m an activist, I speak up. I’ve been pushing her on some issues, and she disagrees with me.”

County Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter said Thursday afternoon that she had received phone calls and comments from many teachers and members of the community about various concerns regarding Honokaa High administrators, including the complaints about teaching assignments for the next academic year.

In an effort to learn more, she and state Rep. Mark Nakashima will attend a community meeting at the North Hawaii Educational Research Center at 5 p.m. Sunday.

“I’ve got to stay in my lane, but I’m acknowledging the concerns of my constituents,” Poindexter said.

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“My job is to make sure to kokua the process of getting concerns written down on paper. … There are so many concerns, and I’ve only gotten bits and pieces. I felt a little scattered,” she said.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaii tribune-herald.com.

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