Just as we at Civil Beat were brainstorming how to keep track of Hawaii’s Race to the Top promises, the department launched HawaiiDOEReform.org.

The website’s tagline is “Transforming Hawaii’s Public Schools” and it appears poised to keep track of what’s happening with Race to the Top and other statewide education reforms.

It’s not the first time the Hawaii Department of Education has launched a website separate from its main site. Add it to the growing network of auxiliary Hawaii education department sites that include the Accountability Resource Center Hawaii and more recently the Hawaii State Assessment.

If you’ve ever tried to use the main site, you’ll know it’s packed with information but it’s a challenge to navigate. For that reason alone, the idea of isolating the department’s information about education reforms seems sensible. And not only that, but each new site the department launches is better than the ones before it, and so far, HawaiiDOEReform.org is no exception. It’s prettier, at least.

Department spokeswoman Sandy Goya said the communications office worked with THREE Marketing to design the site for about $5,000. The department paid for it with part of a $30,000 grant from the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation for a new website and e-newsletter.

Let’s take the new site for a spin:

First thing you see: A photo of what appear to be students sitting atop a navigation bar, next to the tagline “Transforming Hawaii’s Schools: Preparing Students for Global Success.”

Farther down the home page: A quotation from Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi about Race to the Top, followed by a (very general) overview of what reforms are in store for Hawaii’s public schools over the next four years.

Final home page impression: At the bottom of the page, you can read the department’s latest newsletter, watch videos about Race to the Top (including the department’s presentation of its application to the U.S. Department of Education) and sign up to receive news updates.

The big picture: Following a repeat of the home page overview, the site introduces Robert Campbell, who is overseeing the state’s reform efforts. The Q & A section is remarkably short: four questions. I’m curious if they will be adding to that section in coming months. And if so, how can website users submit their own questions?

Application: The Race to the Top section includes links to pretty much every aspect of the state’s grant application. Browsing the links will tell you everything from who’s on the leadership team and who wrote letters to support the initiative, to a PDF of the actual application.

Details, details: The “5 Point Plan” tab has a side panel to help you navigate to each aspect of the department’s plan for improving education. It’s all written in paragraph form with no bullets, so settle in to read.

Focus on the good: One page on the site is dedicated to highlighting people in the department who have set examples of excellence.

What’s missing: From the looks of it, it could end up becoming just another public relations platform for the education department. But it has potential. I would love to see more support for community engagement and feedback. Maybe some sort of partnership with Our Public School, which is designed to get the community involved in improving schools.

And of course I’m interested to see if the site helps with transparency and accountability. I’ll be keeping my eye on how this site is used in the future. What kind of information and documents will be added to it? Will HawaiiDOEReform.org help us ensure over the next four years that the department delivers the reforms it has promised?

What are your impressions of the department’s new education reform website?

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