Hawaii’s Department of Education (DOE) is making some changes in its execution of the four-year, $75 million federal Race to the Top (RTTT) program.
“We are transforming education at a very fast pace,” said DOE Director of Communications Donalyn Dela Cruz. “We’ve been stagnant for a while but it’s time to move as fast as we can. Race to the Top was a catalyst to help us wake up and really see how far we could go.”
The federal program sets four priorities for public school reform: Adopting internationally aligned college and career-ready standards, using data systems to evaluate student learning and teaching effectiveness, retaining and rewarding effective teachers and deploying them to high-need areas, and targeting consistently under-performing schools for priority help. To these four goals, Hawaii’s DOE has added a fifth criteria: “Reorganization within the Department of Education to facilitate implementation of the reforms.”
“All of the Race to the Top initiatives have now become a part of the transformation of the DOE,” said Dela Cruz.
This fifth priority has been incorporated into one of the three main goals of the DOE’s Strategic Plan.
“Goal 2 is Staff Success,” said Dela Cruz. “Under that is EES, which is the Educator Evaluation System. The idea is to really develop these future leaders—whether it’s teachers in the classroom or education officers when they become principals, vice-principals or even move up to CAS (Complex Area Superintendent).”
The DOE has tapped Patricia Ann Park, who until recently was Assistant Superintendent of the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support, to lead the implementation of EES reforms.
“[The new position will be] in-line with building our future teachers as leaders and [Park] has the experience to start that transition and help move that along,” said Dela Cruz. “Pat Park has done it all. Right now she’s still closing out and transitioning Leila Hayashida into her position as the new Assistant Superintendent of the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support.”
Park said in a telephone conversation that her new position began on June 1.
It took two years of protracted political conflict before The Hawaii State Teacher Association’s (HSTA) contract was finally ratified on April 17. The long battle was cited in a Federal report as a factor in delays to Hawaii’s RTTT plan that put Hawaii on “high-risk” status.
“In April the Feds were here checking on our status,” said Dela Cruz. “We were very successful in making the necessary changes. We got off two areas [of high risk] and we have two more to go.”
“Within that contract the teachers also had a professional development arm, so that’s EES as well,” said Dela Cruz. “Things like performance-pay—these are things that are changing within the Department and changing quickly.”
The issue of EES implementation was a major hold-up on contract negotiations, suggesting significant opposition among teachers. Only after HSTA was allowed to form two committees to monitor EES development did HSTA agree to the contract. Wil Okabe, HSTA President, released a video message (http://vimeo.com/67710934) on June 4 in which he said: “The Advisory Committee will be reflecting your experiences and your desires for a system that should focus on improving the practice of teaching that leads to improved student learning and producing real results for students.”
“As far as getting the contract ratified, the participation was high and the voting was unified,” said Okabe when he spoke to The Hawaii Independent on the phone.
Unified is a bit of an understatement. This year’s ratification had a 70 percent member participation rate and out of the members who voted, a whopping 95 percent voted to ratify; both numbers are among the highest in the union’s history.
However, there are some who disagree. According to a teacher from Pat Park’s former Complex Area who spoke to The Hawaii Independent but wished to remain anonymous, “the group of people at the top of the DOE have blindly rushed into “educational reform,” and that makes teachers nervous.”
Okabe says he hasn’t heard of such concerns from teachers as of yet. “But I don’t know the teachers that you’re talking to—they haven’t brought [those concerns] to our attention,” he said.
“From most of the people at the state level and people who are really heavily engaged in the reform efforts, especially the EES, it’s a one-way conversation,” insists the anonymous teacher.
Dela Cruz rejected the notion that the DOE wasn’t communicating well: “We have teachers do surveys, we get feedback, they’re a part of “Great Teachers and Great Leaders” —so it’s a number of moving parts. Of course you have some teachers that are more involved than others, but our job is to communicate, as best we can, the changes that are happening.”
HSTA’s EES committees will have to move quickly if they want to suggest any reforms to the DOE’s Strategic Plan: Teacher orientation to the new system is set for August 5.
Okabe encourages teachers with concerns to come forward and let the HSTA leadership know about it: “We’re communicating with the DOE, but if somebody hears something, we would like to know. Only then can we go ahead and check it out.”