Out of all 50 states that comprise the USA, the public education system in Hawaii is different than the other 49. It is the only one with a state-centralized education system. There are no school districts like there are in other states. As such, there is only one Board of Education with nine, term-staggered, governor-appointed members who set policies for all the public and public charter schools in Hawaii.
There are pros and cons to this model. For example, the state always gets high scores for education "equity" because all schools receive the same per pupil funding, and it's not determined by local property values. The same marginal allotment of financial resources; the same low pay for teachers, but hey, at least public education is equitably underfunded across the islands.
The snail's pace at which state bureaucracies move, and the political appointee framework of the BOE make the task of changing anything nearly as difficult as passing a state law. If you've ever tried to convince a local school board, like those one encounters on the mainland, to make a positive change, and tried the same with a state bureaucracy, you will understand the logger jam the latter imposes on the Hawaii public education system.
Undeniably a daunting challenge, cultural change *is* possible. If you have ideas for how to improve Hawaii's schools, share them with the Board of Education. Below are some of my letters to the BOE I share with you. If you've sent a letter to the BOE about changing the Hawaii DOE culture to provide greater openness, accountability, and/or family & community engagement, or you just want to help, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letters from Others:
Aloha to all Board of Education Members,
As the DOE develops a new Strategic Plan, I strongly suggest the Board influence the Superintendent to try something new. Focus on Parent and Community Engagement. It is touted throughout U.S. education systems that parent and community engagement is essential for successful student outcomes. Even schools in underprivileged communities can thrive if the school leadership is capable of accomplishing authentic parent and community engagement. Unfortunately, the DOE is not even close to accomplishing this because their current practices are the antithesis of engagement. The DOE culture eschews conflict, silences or ignores complaints, and even tolerates lying if it can get rid of anyone who voices dissent.
When a society is having a collective problem, laws are enacted, enforcement is essential, everything runs smoother, and nobody gets hurt. Imagine what it was like to train people how to follow traffic lights when converting from horses to cars. The BOE needs to make better policies that do the same on the road to diversity, inclusion, stakeholder engagement, and the inevitable conflicting ideas that come with this. That road, right now has people crashing into the DOE wall left and right. For example, take a look at this Hawai‘i News Now story that was aired Feb. 3, 2022:
I was listening to the news when I heard the Principal’s name mentioned and it got my immediate attention. I, too, had been extremely frustrated by Ms. Balatico’s actions for years as I attempted to help a Polynesian family get a decent education for their learning disabled child. That’s putting it mildly. She was impossible to work with, uncooperative, vindictive, and dishonest. Sadly, that’s what I’ve come to expect from HIDOE Principals, and happily, once in great while, I meet one who’s not like this. Ever since 2007, when I became a licensed Grade 3 teacher in a high need area of Hawai‘i at the tender age of 48, after a long career as a writer, trainer, and technology professional in the SF Bay area, I have run into HIDOE employees who are incapable of managing conflict in a professional manner, any kind of conflict no matter how benign. The Complex Area Superintendents I’ve dealt with over the years, have all handled complaints about unfairly resolved conflict with Principals the same way (except for one, Chad Farias). They say, “Work it out with the Principal.” That’s absurd, because one would not be going to the CAS if one had been able to work it out with the Principal.
I’ve often wondered what the DOE was teaching its employees about conflict management. So, this month, I submitted a UIPA Request to Access a Government Record to find out. Apparently, the State of Hawai‘i Department of Education doesn't teach its employees any professional conflict resolution skills, much less monitor and measure outcomes to identify and correct common or recurring problems. Here is a picture of my request for training materials and procedures, and the DOE’s response, "No records found":
This is an enormous gaping hole in HIDOE employee training!
Why do you think so many parents put their children in private school in this state? Why is it hard to retain teachers? It's not just the pay. It's the HIDOE culture which assassinates independent thought and insists upon, even glorifies, silent subservience in the presence of supercilious stupidity and sanctimonious smallmindedness.
It is up to the Board of Education to make sure a new Strategic Plan includes a plan for training employees how to manage conflict professionally, monitoring complaints about conflict, and improving procedures and employee performance concerning conflict management. Conflict management skills are needed to quickly, fairly, and intelligently handle conflict between employees; between supervisors and subordinates; between students; between a teacher and a student; between a parent and a teacher; between a principal and a parent; between a community member and a principal, etc.
12 Aug 2022 - I requested all the training materials and procedures the Hawaii Department of Education uses to train its employees how to lead with professional conflict management skills.
The answer: No records found.
Non-English-Proficient Parents Get Short Shrift in Hawaii
Aloha Board of Education Members and Superintendent Kishimoto,
Hawaii school funding is based on the number of students enrolled in school. One would think you'd be interested in keeping kids in public school. Well, this month you lost one more addition to your coffers. My friend, the impoverished, Tongan mother of a learning-challenged child, is borrowing money from family, and has enrolled her son in parochial school. Goodbye to one more statistic justifying Hawaii weighted student formula as well as federal SpEd and Title I funds for this kid. This shouldn't surprise any of you since I've been writing about the problem for over a year. Which problem? Well, there are so many, I've lost count, but in this particular case this is it:
If an uneducated and/or a non-English-proficient parent wants a friend or family member to collaborate with them and the school to facilitate home-to-school communications, THE HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION WILL NOT ALLOW IT!
What a stupid and venal way to run a school. I have helped this immigrant mother interact with medical, financial, and other government institutions both inside and outside of Hawaii, and once they get verification that she wants me to speak for her, there's no problem. The problem, it seems, exists solely with the State of Hawaii Department of Education.
I really wish you'd change the status quo. Attached is yet another letter appealing to the Board of Education to fix the problems. Please forward a copy of this email to the BOE Student Representative and Military Liaison so they are aware of my concerns to the Board.
Testimony: Authentic Family & Community Engagement
The State Superintendent's priorities never seem to include authentic family & community engagement. The BOE needs to make this a priority if we ever expect to have a world class education system.
Parent Asks for the Right to Involve Her Assistant
This single parent has limited English skills, and limited understanding of the U.S. public education system. Vanessa Ott has been a friend of the family since 2017 and tutored Ms. Huahulu's son for free. He does really well when Ms. Ott is involved in his education. Sadly, believe it or not, the Principal refuses to let Vanessa Ott participate in home-to-school communication as the mother wishes. We believe this is because Ms. Huahulu can be linguistically, academically, and institutionally bullied. Ms. Ott fights back.
End Systemic Racism in Hawai‘i DOE
Dear BOE, I’m continuing my efforts to end the systemic racism and classism in the Hawai‘i Department of Education that is very real, and hurting our keiki. This problem will not disappear until the BOE enacts Policies and Hawai‘i Administrative rules ensuring equitable family engagement opportunities for students whose parents are uneducated and/or non-English-proficient...
(read letter below)
Give Parents the Right to Their Own Assistant
English-challenged public school parents are bullied by the DOE, and there's no system of redress. What is the BOE is going to do about accountability, fostering true, authentic family engagement, and giving English-challenged parents the right to have an assistant help them.
How To Close the SpEd Achievement Gap
These strategies improve outcomes for struggling students. Why won't the Hawaii Department of Education implement them and the Board of Education require them?
Please Adopt a Framework for Community Schools
This letter was published by Civil Beat on June 15, 2017.
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