Hawaii has dozens of education groups, each promoting its own cause and doing what it thinks is right by Hawaii’s keiki.

But if the launch event for the new Hui for Excellence in Education (HE‘E) is any indication, there’s a new kid on the block, and it could make even bigger things happen.

Monday’s meeting at the state Capitol was a virtual who’s who of Hawaii education. Gov. Neil Abercrombie ate lunch at the sign-in table next to Hawaii P-20 Council director Tammi Chun. House Education Chairman Roy Takumi and Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jill Tokuda talked with Hawaii schools superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, who popped in during the last few minutes.

The former president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association talked story with a professor from the University of Hawaii, and representatives from more than a dozen grassroots and nonprofit education organizations mingled for more than an hour. Meanwhile, Harold K.L. Castle Foundation director Terry George met Darren Dean from the military’s Joint Venture Education Forum for the first time.

Also there was Ann Davis of Hawaii Education Matters, which played a central role in ending last year’s Furlough Fridays.

The luncheon was a microcosm of what HE’E aims to do: Gather all of the state’s education stakeholders in one place so they can work together. Although there are an abundance of networks that deal with specific education-related issues, this is Hawaii’s first statewide coalition designed to encompass all of them.

“This is a wonderful, wonderful thing,” said Abercrombie in an informal address to the group Monday afternoon. “Education reforms and reconfigurations like this can be so valuable to the Legislature and those of us casting votes on education issues.”

The Power of Collaboration

HE‘E is an initiative of and funded by The Learning Coalition, which was co-founded by local philanthropists Bill Reeves and Debbie Berger. One goal is for the hui to become self-sustaining by tapping the resources of its members.

The coalition’s logo is a hee, or octopus, whose tentacles represent the various members who all have their day jobs but are prepared to snap to collaborative action, said spokeswoman Kathy Bryant.

The coalition already has 26 partners and members, ranging from
the Good Beginnings Alliance to the department of education and UH’s College of Education.1

“What’s really exciting is that we’re putting together very diverse groups that already work with families in a variety of ways,” Bryant said. “What they are all doing is fabulous, but they never were all in the same room at the same time.”

For that reason, HE‘E’s value begins at introducing its members to one another.

“I think one of the greatest things about it so far is just knowing what everyone is doing,” said Christina Simmons, program director of the Hawaii Parental Information and Resource Center. “I had not known about all these great things going on.”

Those groups will not only be able to plan more strategically now, said Bryant, but they will also be able to share resources. She said: “For the first time ever, we’re bringing them all to the table so we’re not reinventing the wheel all the time.”

The hui also aims to give a seat at the table to organizations that otherwise might not be heard, said Simmons.

Setting Priorities

HE‘E is designed to become a one-stop shop for education inquiries and interests, Bryant said. Its representatives will work to either answer or direct community members’ and policymakers’ questions to the organizations who can answer them.

It hopes also to become a point of contact for community engagement and an information clearing house.

HE‘E’s priorities for the next five years are:

  1. Enhance family engagement.
  2. Influence public policy that affects education.
  3. Build trust within the coalition.
  4. Engage families as a component of school leadership.
  5. Meet the basic needs of every child.
  6. Strengthen schools and community relationships.
  7. Match school needs with community resources.
  8. Remove obstacles to good teaching.
  9. Build faith in Hawaii’s public schools.

Abercrombie said he would collaborate and cooperate “to what degree and extent I can” to bring the coalition’s education ideas to “political and budgetary reality.”

“You can count on me to work in the spirit of community, and I consider myself a friend and a partner in your efforts,” he said.

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