So long, summer: Public school classrooms readied for start of academic year

MOUNTAIN VIEW — A few days before school starts, fourth-grade teacher Erik Onishi is hanging posters, sharpening pencils and rearranging desks.

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MOUNTAIN VIEW — A few days before school starts, fourth-grade teacher Erik Onishi is hanging posters, sharpening pencils and rearranging desks.

There’s a row of name tags hanging neatly near the front door of his classroom at Mountain View Elementary School and a poster that reads “Just Keep Swimming” — a quote from the movie “Finding Nemo” — tacked on the wall above the room’s sink.

“What I like to say to my students in the beginning of the year is, think of a quote that will resonate within you,” Onishi said Friday as he sorted through supplies for his 25 incoming students. “That quote from ‘Finding Nemo’ means to persevere and not give up. For our students, we do a lot of testing and it can get stressful, but we want to push for them and have them succeed and persevere through that.”

Onishi is among nearly 13,000 teachers statewide who returned to school last week, a week ahead of students.

Monday is the first day of the 2017-18 academic year for most state Department of Education schools. Some schools start Tuesday, including Mountain View and other schools in the Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area where staff took part in a professional development summit last week that pushed back the start.

Schools statewide can expect some changes at the state level this year. New DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto assumed her post Aug. 1. The state also is operating under an updated strategic plan which calls for a greater focus on closing achievement gaps, among other things.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law replacing No Child Left Behind, also is taking effect this year. The Board of Education approved a plan this summer to implement the new law which calls for more support for schools with struggling students and higher expectations for English language learners, among other things.

At Mountain View, where a high number of students are from low-income families, staff are working to reduce the number of chronically absent students, Principal Wilma Roddy said. The school also wants to continue reducing its already decreasing number of misconduct cases, she said.

Mountain View also is newly certified by the Blue Zones Project, meaning it has successfully implemented the project’s principles promoting healthy eating, exercise and mindfulness, among other things.

“Our theme this year is ‘Navigating our course with compassion,’” Roddy said. “… I want our students to come to school every day knowing we care about them, love them and want them to succeed.”

For Onishi and other teachers, the first day brings some jitters, but nerves quickly are mitigated once students arrive.

Kindergarten teachers Kevyn-Bren Inouye and Andrea Stroescu said they most enjoy meeting their students and witnessing progress during the year.

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“You spend so much time with them and you just hope to have a positive impact on them,” Inouye said. “You try to love them, support them and believe in them so they know they can do anything they set their hearts to.”

“The classroom is empty now but in a couple of days it will be filled with kids,” Stroescu added. “It’s interesting to see how much can happen and change during the year. Many (kindergartners) have probably never been with kids their own age, and yet they’re going to grow and build relationships with everybody.”

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