The Hawaii Department of Education will learn whether it gets to keep its $75 million Race to the Top grant when federal officials visit later this month.

The visit is scheduled for March 27-30. Meanwhile, department leaders are gathering their arsenal of evidence to show they are making progress on the grant promises. In December, they got scolded and the state’s grant was put on “high-risk” status for failure to to make significant progress in the first year of the four-year grant.

As of Jan. 31, the department had accomplished “over 85 percent” of its 400 or so “deliverables and subtasks,” Assistant Superintendent of Strategic Reform Stephen Schatz told the Board of Education in a Race to the Top update Tuesday.

Department of Education spokeswoman Sandy Goya said the 400 deliverables Schatz mentioned probably referred to small itemized to-do items, which together help accomplish bigger tasks like teacher evaluations.

The department has been much more communicative about its Race to the Top projects since the December rebuke, providing regular updates to the Board of Education and the Legislature, as well as more thorough coverage of its various projects via a website dedicated to Hawaii’s education reform efforts.

Some of Hawaii’s most significant accomplishments thus far, Schatz told board members Tuesday, include:

  • Reorganizing the state-level Department of Education offices to streamline responsibilities.

  • Beginning to implement Common Core curriculum standards, which were developed to standardize expectations among the nation’s 50 states, D.C. and its territories.

  • Rolling out a statewide longitudinal data system that helps teachers and principals track student progress.

  • Beginning to hold meetings to develop a new teacher evaluation system, and laying the legal groundwork to implement it when it’s ready.

  • Reaching an agreement with teachers to extend school time in the state’s Zones of School Innovation, two geographic areas in which the schools are piloting some of the bolder education reforms.

Schatz sounded most excited about the extended learning time agreement with teachers, the fact that school leaders are actually using the “longitudinal data system,” and that lots of schools are volunteering to pilot teacher evaluations next year.

“Getting this agreement was a real big milestone in terms of accomplishing our ‘Race’ initiatives,” he said.

He explained that even though teachers in the zones have already been working longer hours and participating in extra professional development days, “Now we’re doing it in a more systematic and mandatory way for our kids and teachers.”

He also told board members that the longitudinal data system — designed to basically store all information about a student — was a gamble for the state that seems to be paying off.

“As we look at the data, we’re noting that principals and teacher leaders are using this system pretty consistently,” he said. “We’re excited, because this is one of those systems where, when you design it, you’re not sure if it’s going to get used or not. It’s good to know that it’s being used to make informed decisions about what’s best for students.”

Board of Education member Col. William Morrison, the military liaison, asked Schatz what the top three things that keep him up at night are with regards to Race to the Top. Schatz replied that he worries most about implementing the education reforms well and with fidelity to the goals.

“When we were writing the grant, I think the fear was that we wouldn’t become a Race to the Top winner,” he said. “And then once we got it, it became about getting the things done — whether we’ll be able to make these reforms happen and sustain them. This is about making a difference and impact on our kids.

“What concerns me is not just getting a check on a box in terms of project, but the quality of the implementation. If we’re not implementing with quality, we’re not making an impact on our teachers and students.”

Board Chairman Don Horner thanked Schatz for his dedication to the reforms, and re-emphasized the state’s dedication to the Race to the Top reforms, regardless of whether Hawaii is able to keep the $75 million grant.

“Sometimes, to me, the term ‘Race to the Top’ is unfortunate, because it’s a federal government program,” Horner said. “As you know, this is a lot more than a federal government program. I think where we’re heading is a big part of our strategic plan. This is something we told the federal government we were going to do. We gave it to them and not the other way around, and they gave us their blessing and said they would help us fund it.

“I applaud the attitude that these reforms aren’t dependent on the federal government’s blessing, which we covet, but I appreciate what you’re saying about getting this done right instead of fast.”

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