Leona Rocha-Wilson, 2010 candidate for the Board of Education-Maui Residency seat, Transcript:
Introduction: I’m Leona Rocha-Wilson. I was born in H-Poko, went to Maui High and Baldwin High. After graduating from Baldwin High, I joined the service. My mother felt that she wanted me to do something other than work in the fields, so we sat down together. I didn’t have enough money to go to school, so consequently, as Mom and I sat together, she said: “You know, if you join the service maybe you can get your education through the G.I. Bill. Indeed, I did just that. I went to school at night for eight years, and studied fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. While there, I designed a ruler called the
fashion ruler, and I ended up starting my own company called Fashionetics. Later, I ran the company; I became the first woman president of this national organization called The American Home Sewing Association, made up of executives of all the major companies like Singer, the pattern companies and so forth. So I had board experience in that I have worked in a national organization. What really started me off on running for this campaign is I was very aware of the high school drop out rate. For every 100 students that enter our high schools, 21 drop out of school. In Hawaii, its 21 out of 100; nationally, it’s 33 out of 100. These are our children. They’re not stupid. They’re bright kids. They need a curriculum that will serve their needs. My job as a board member is to see to it that we have two paths: a path for career, and a path for college, so that all children will receive a fulfilling education.
Lahainaluna Boarding program: There was discussion this year of a possible funding cut to the long-time boarding program at Lahainaluna High School. Are you in support of state funding for the program or against the one-of-a-kind expense? Answer: Yesterday, I went to Lahainaluna–this was my second trip to speak with the principal there. It’s my policy, that if there is a question that I need to have some refinement on, it’s to go to the source. And I went to Mike Nakano, who is the Principal of Lahainaluna, and spoke to him about this wonderful program. Lahainaluna is the oldest school west of the Mississippi. It’s going to be 175 years old. This is part of our culture. How can we do away with something that is so important–not only to our culture, but to our children. The 95 students that are there–boys and girls–are paying their way actually. I watched them yesterday–they had rakes, they were maintaining the property. They go to the cafeteria and wash dishes. And when they are in the community, in their dorm, they live as a part of a family. How can we do away with something that is so valuable in so many ways? These are some children who need additional support–either parental support, or support from the community–and they are getting it. So the students in this case, benefit enormously. We can’t and should not do away with this boarding program.
Library Closures: The state Library System faced a $3.6 million deficit in 2010 and threatened the closure of the Hana Library as well as a reduction in personnel. If elected what would you do to assure Maui’s rural communities are protected and continue to benefit from services offered in other parts of the state. Answer: I’m very aware of the fact of the role that a library plays with regard to our students. The library staffs a teacher, not just a librarian, but a teacher. That’s really important, because it is through that teacher that the child goes to the library, seeks some help–not just to find the items that they are looking for–but indeed to be guided, and to be taught by this librarian. I would find the funds. I will be creative and try to identify areas in which we can perhaps save the libraries. Not perhaps–forget perhaps–I will save them. I mean, I feel that strongly about it. I think that what we need to do is to think outside the box and try to come up with ways. Maybe the funding can be found from someplace else, and eliminate something from there. As a business woman, and I’ve been a business woman, I know what it is to handle budgets, and so looking at the budget, and feeling and understanding the importance of these projects, then you look to see, is there something else that I can cut. It’s no different than in a family. You look to see what is important and you allocate those funds towards that importance; and try to eliminate those other areas that may not very important to you. And so, work the funds so that you maximize the use of your monies. I support the libraries.
Furloughs: If elected to the post, what would you do to prevent a repeat of the Furlough Friday situation in Hawaii’s classrooms? Answer: Just recently, it was signed into law, that you must have 180 school days. So the furlough days–the chances of that happening is non-existent, actually at this time. However, that being said, I’m always planning for something that may be unexpected. And in the unexpected, I thought that perhaps what we should do, is set aside a small percentage of our tax dollars to go into a fund–a school fund–for emergencies. You know, recessions will happen, and will happen they tell me every ten years or so; and if that’s the case, though we have it into law that it’s not going to happen again, it wouldn’t hurt to have an emergency fund set aside just for schools to protect our teachers and our principals, and our students so that they will not be subject to a recession.
No Child Left Behind: Even with Furlough Fridays, 13 Maui County public and charter schools met federal benchmarks for “adequate yearly progress” on mathematics and reading scores this year, five more than met the goals last year. Do you think the federal program is working or a waste of time? Answer: First of all, congratulations to all the schools that passed, and all the other schools that are working so hard. And believe me, I know how committed the principals and the teachers are. I have been to schools from Hana to Molokai. I have been to schools in the Central (area) and Upcountry. I’ve been to Haiku. You name it. And I’ve talked with every principal I can talk with, because they are on the firing line. They are working hard to see to it that our children are well taken care of and well educated. With regard to No Child Left Behind, what is interesting about this No Child Left Behind is that the test has been created by each state. The reason we rank so low is our test is probably the hardest in the nation. So when our children are meeting the goal, then you’ve got to know we’re up there with the best of them. If you look at the numbers, we’re down with regard to 47th or 48th, however, if you look to see our test and compare it to Mississippi, which is in the top 10, our test is by far harder. So you know, it’s not a fair comparison. That being said, I think if our tests were easier, all of our schools would pass, no question. So, I’m for the No Child Left Behind–I wish they had funded it a little bit more to give the teachers more help in having our students work with or certainly be tutored further with regard to math and reading. Those are two skills that the more we have, the better we are at it, it serves us for the rest of our lives for sure.
Closing thoughts: (this is your opportunity to give contact info or upcoming campaign info for Maui constituents). Answer: I think what is really important for me, is for the audience that you know that for me children come first. And I know you’ve heard this said before many times, but I will not on the board–I will not vote for any project or program without getting full understanding how it impacts the principal, and how it impacts the teacher, and how it impacts the student. I don’t have all the answers, but I know where to get it, and I will fight for Maui’s children. They are in my heart. My mother taught me–she said, “you know, education is the foundation for life.”