Wednesday | December 13, 2017
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School superintendent stresses partnerships to prepare students for future

HILO — State public schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said the Department of Education is “working hard on a lot of things,” but she stressed the need for partnerships outside of the DOE to prepare Hawaii students for entry into colleges and job markets.

Matayoshi, a graduate of Hilo High School, was appointed superintendent of Hawaii’s statewide public education system on Sept. 13, 2010, and is former director of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Her remarks were made Friday at a joint luncheon meeting of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce at the Hilo Yacht Club.

There is a new strategic plan for public schools and — believe it or not, Matayoshi said — for the first time the DOE has the same strategic plan for public education as the Board of Education. “All of our dollars need to be focused on the strategic plan.”

“As we go forward we are going to learn,” she said, “and not run around in a circle planning all the time. The ultimate goal is getting (students) ready to succeed in careers and college,” she said.

An $11 million, one-year program currently in effect is aimed at lifting the achievement of students in two areas of the state with the lowest socio-economic demographics. The Waianae school complex on Oahu is one of the districts. The Pahoa-Keaau-Ka‘u complex on Hawaii Island is the other, where the funds pay teachers for extra hours in the school day to provide various kinds of remedial and enrichment studies.

“It’s very expensive for one school year (and) we’re not likely to have that money again,” she said. In the meantime, “we have to figure out if it made a real difference in the schools.”

Matayoshi also explained a “new vision” for the schools’ annual “No Child Left Behind” evaluations. Adequate yearly progress based on a single test given to students, is being replaced by a seven-level classification system that evaluates not only the test score, but student growth, and a student’s readiness for college and career. “No more thumbs up, or thumbs down based on the yearly AYP test,” she said.

Teacher evaluation is also on the DOE’s agenda. “Our plan is to focus on teacher improvement, not getting rid of teachers. We need to make sure they are the best that they can be.” The statewide district hires more than 800 new teachers a year, Matayoshi said. “We’re looking at improvement, not gotcha. We support professional development and training that gets down to the classroom.”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card on schools, still places Hawaii low on the national scale but the more recent scores indicate significant progress in math and reading for students in the fourth and eighth grades. And Hawaii was among the leaders nationwide with the greatest levels of test improvements. “It’s system-wide improvement,” Matayoshi said.

Several chamber members wanted to know more about establishing partnerships with schools. Vaughn Cook, president of the Hilo Chamber, said the Chamber works closely with the DOE through its “Journey Through the Universe” program at Imiloa Astronomy Center. Matayoshi called it “fantastic, a prime example of businesses coming together for schools.”

Cook called the superintendent’s presentation an “encouraging update on education,” and was particularly impressed with the DOE’s efforts in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — education. “They’re going above and beyond in science and technology education, which is key to the astronomy industry,” he said. Journey Through the Universe is “a great example of partnerships between business and the DOE.”

Sandra Dawson, manager of community relations for the Thirty-Meter Telescope, said she was impressed with Matayoshi. “The planning seems to be going on,” said Dawson. “She’s got it together.”

Matayoshi was more circumspect however when discussing charter schools, not knowing how many there are in the state, for example. A new commission has been formed to revamp charter school laws, however. “They are not part of the DOE,” she said. “They have autonomy to pursue their own goals.”

Pila Wilson, chairman of Academic Programs Division at the Hawaiian Language College at the University of Hawaii, oversees the Ke Kula Mauli Ola Hawaii O Nawahiokalaniopuu Hawaiian language immersion school in Keaau, which has its own problem. The Hawaiian language isn’t recognized in federal education laws and immersion schools are required to provide testing to their students in English. “We don’t teach English,” said Wilson, who continues to work closely with school officials to find some resolution. “We’re the only state with two languages,” he said. “It’s created a problem.”

On a more practical budget level, the DOE plans to reduce its $2 million annual electricity budget and make each school building a net energy producer with the next three to five years, said Matayoshi. “That money will be put back into education,” she said. “It’s our promise to try as hard as we can to do right by our kids.”