Letters 12-8-2012

Students and teachers

Racing to Top

In December 2010, the Hawaii Department of Education embarked on an ambitious journey to improve schools for all of our keiki. Now, just two years later, I can proudly say that the schools in the Ka‘u Keaau Pahoa Complex Area, including Keaau Elementary School, where I am principal, are seeing results.

The strategic planning and extra resources from Hawaii’s Race to the Top grant played a critical role in helping us add more time for student learning and refocus the school culture on student data and ongoing feedback.

In just 24 months, our students’ math and reading scores have jumped. The challenges that were presented to us have been great, but everyone from the administrative team to the classroom teachers is working with a renewed mission to do better.

For example, much has been said about the educator evaluation system. At Keaau Elementary, we seized the opportunity to learn constructive evaluation practices, not to drive consequences but to provide teachers with the formative feedback they need to improve continuously. Every day, my team and I offer teachers feedback on ways to deliver effective instruction and create classroom environments that support learning.

Each week, teachers meet to review student data and brainstorm strategies for improving student achievement. Through Race to the Top, our school has accessed resources and supports that continue to enable us to improve. One such resource is the DOE’s recently created system where teachers can share formative assessments to pinpoint better how students are doing in class. This exchange allows teachers to learn from each other.

In the 2011-12 school year, Keaau Elementary worked to add more time to the school day. We used the additional time to provide teachers with intensive professional development on how to use student data to improve instruction. The added time was also a big win for our students.

During the extended hours, students have access to intensive learning periods and hands-on project based learning which allows them to apply their understanding in a real world context.

We also leveraged Race to the Top resources to make pre-existing Response to Intervention strategies come to life. The extra hour in our school day provides more time to target students who most need it. The projects and activities that occur during the new hours are directly tied to the needs of our kids.

Here at Keaau Elementary, we are seeing success, thanks to the hard work of our teachers and staff, the community we serve, and the resources and support from the Race to the Top grant.

We have laid the foundation for a school culture that prides itself on rich feedback and comprehensive support.

While there is much more work to be done, we are now positioned to continue to rise to the occasion for all of our keiki. What we’ve been able to accomplish during these last two years is just the beginning to the success that lies ahead of us, and our community.

Chad Keone Farias


Keaau Elementary School