A state education task force formed to help come up with a teacher evaluation system is causing some consternation among members who worry little is being accomplished as a deadline for recommendations quickly approaches.

The Hawaii Department of Education is in the process of tweaking the evaluation system as part of local initiatives and the state’s Race to the Top proposal.

To help accomplish that, a 15-member task force known as Great Teachers Great Leaders (GTGL) has been in place since January 2012.

“The evaluation design will be more effective when developed and implemented in collaboration with educators and other stakeholders, including teacher and principal associations,” wrote Gov. Neil Abercrombie in a December 2011 memorandum.

A pilot program of the evaluation system is already being tested at 81 schools across the state, and the DOE hopes to implement at all schools come August. But critics, including the Hawaii State Teachers Association, have challenged the program, pointing to components that they say would not offer fair assessments of teachers’ performance.

Teacher evaluations are a major sticking point in contentious contract negotiations between the teachers union and the state.

The GTGL task force — made up of an array of community leaders — was in part formed to help the DOE address those concerns.

Teachers union members on the task force and several hard-line teacher activists have been openly critical of the GTGL group, even accusing the DOE of stacking the committee with people favorable to its position on evaluations.

Former Big Island teacher Vanessa Ott complains that the DOE handpicks people who it thinks “would never speak up and contradict the administration.”

“They’re ‘yes’ people,” Ott said. “Those are the ones who ride up.”

But a Civil Beat review of the task force and interviews with a number of its members doesn’t support that criticism. If anything, members of the task force describe a process that is sincerely trying to come up with a fair evaluation system but is disappointing in how long it has taken to get there.

Civil Beat interviewed seven of the GTGL’s 15 members. The other eight didn’t return phone calls or emails seeking to speak with them for this story, or couldn’t be reached.

Four of the people interviewed by Civil Beat said they still weren’t sure how the DOE will be using their advice. They also said that, so far, the meetings have been inconclusive.

“It’s too unstructured and wasn’t formed properly,” said Joan Husted, a task force member and former executive director of the HSTA. “We want to put a plan together that moves this agenda forward productively … We just haven’t gotten to that point.”

But DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz emphasized that this is a pilot program and the purpose of a pilot program is to identify challenges and respond to them over time.

“Implementation takes time and learning from data, from various voices, allows the practitioners to either confirm that they are on the right path or not,” Dela Cruz wrote in an email. “This is a process and it may not be moving as fast as some would like, but there is no doubt there is forward movement.”

The Task Force

The task force represents a diverse cross-section of state education administrators, business and nonprofit leaders, educators and union representatives.

At least half of the members are former teachers, but only two of them are active. (See below for the breakdown.)

Some critics say the task force is just another example of the department’s top-down business model, its effort to resist widespread feedback and keep teachers in the dark.

Task force coordinator Yvonne Lau said some people appear to be misunderstanding the role of the task force in the bigger process. The task force wasn’t geared toward teacher engagement, she said, because that’s the purpose of a separate teacher leader workgroup, which is comprised primarily of teachers representing each of the state’s complex areas. Lau works in the DOE’s Office of Human Resources — the division overseeing the development of the evaluation tool, known as the Educator Effectiveness System (EES).

“The role of the (smaller) group is to come more from a policy standpoint and ask the tough questions and keep us accountable to our field and make sure we’re moving forward in the right way,” Lau said. “We’re not going to know how to do a better job unless we’re measuring and looking at the right things. The task force was designed so that the DOE could gain feedback from different perspectives.”

For example, task force member Megan McCorriston, executive director of Hookakoo Corporation, said she was chosen because of her previous experience with developing a teacher evaluation tool. Hookakoo oversees Waianae’s Kaimale Academy — a conversion charter school whose teacher-designed evaluation system went into effect in the 2008 school year. McCorriston said she hasn’t been able to attend all the GTGL meetings.

And task force member Suzanne Mulcahy, superintendent for the Kailua-Kalaheo complex area schools, pointed to the value of members representing the non-education community, such as Castle Foundation Executive Vice President Terry George.

“They’re the fresh eyes that can bring something new up or share a perspective that can help us stop and reconsider things,” she said.

GTGL Members: What’s Our Role?

Some task force members told Civil Beat that meetings have been mostly talk without a lot of action. Those connected to the HSTA were especially critical.

“I believe the task force is still feeling its way through the job that we’ve been given,” Husted said. “We don’t want to just sit in a meeting and simply exchange information.”

Al Nagasako, a task force member and current HSTA executive director, agreed.

“I don’t think we have enough details to get into the weeds right now,” said Nagasako, a former Kapolei High School principal. “We’re trying to reestablish ourselves to figure out what our role is.”

Member Kristen Brummel, a fourth grade teacher at Noelani who disagrees with HSTA on many points, said she doesn’t know how the task force’s discussions will ultimately be incorporated into the EES.

“I think they’re still waiting to see how to best use the group,” she said.

At past meetings members discussed initial data taken from the pilot schools and shared their feedback as to how the DOE could improve its rollout of the system, according to Brummel. And although she’s been asked to share her thoughts at meetings, Brummel said she wasn’t sure the DOE had made any changes to the system in response to her concerns.

Task force leader Caroline Wong, a former principal of Moanalua Middle School, said she doesn’t think the state is ready to launch the evaluation system.

“There’s a process in place, but we’re a really small group, and they’re (DOE) not able to explain to us yet as to how they’re going to roll this out to the whole state — that isn’t clear,” she said.

Debate over the evaluations has emerged as a key obstacle in the state’s effort to hash out a contract with the HSTA. The DOE had planned to fully implement the program next school year, but many teachers and some task force members have urged the department to postpone its rollout for another year.

“Sometimes you got to take a step back and take a deep breath,” Husted said. “Let’s do it right rather than do it fast.”

The first few meetings were dedicated to exchanging information and discussing the standards against which teachers should be held, according to Lau. Throughout the rest of the school year, the task force will gather more data and feedback to start developing actual policy recommendations, she said. The task force has another meeting scheduled for this month, postponed from January so that state education superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi could be in attendance.

The task force meets four times a year for two hours each. Some of the members have only attended one or two meetings. According to Lau, attendance at last year’s meetings steadily dropped. One-third of the members were absent from the committee’s April 2012 meeting.

Lau emphasized that the development of the evaluation system is a work in progress. The system, she said, would take years to fine-tune.

“It’s a continuous cycle of improvement,” Lau said. “Change is hard. A lot of the components are complicated. And it takes time for people to understand how they can help.”

The DOE has consistently gained feedback from teachers participating in the pilot, she said.

Hawaii’s in its third year of federal funding from Race to the Top, which in part stipulated that the state develop a new teacher evaluation system. This year marks the second year of the pilot program. The pilot in its first year took place at 18 schools in the Zones of School Innovation.

Mulcahy said that she has already seen changes implemented at the schools in response to task force discussions. For example, she’s noticed principals visiting classrooms more regularly and sitting down with teachers to talk about their students’ progress — something that she said the task force discussed at meetings last year.

George commended the DOE for creating a forum where a diverse array of stakeholders can provide honest feedback.

“We all wish it had moved forward more quickly, but at the same time the standards are changing,” he said. “We’re basically inventing this plane as we fly it. That’s why it’s important to have this safe place to talk about how brutally hard this work is.”

“Now, it’s about, ‘how can we move forward from that honesty and candor toward a consensus?'” he said.

Teachers: No Room for Feedback

But HSTA president Wil Okabe said that the DOE has incorporated little feedback from teachers participating in the pilot program.

Preliminary results of a recent HSTA survey asking teachers about their experience with the pilot program suggest that, though they support certain components of the evaluation system, dissatisfaction prevails.

Much of the discontent revolves around one metric of the system known as Tripod Student Surveys, which allow students as young as five years old to rate their teachers.

Just 12 percent of the approximately 500 teachers participating in the program think the surveys should be used as part of their evaluations, according to the results. Most cited concern over whether the students would understand the questions.

More importantly, most teachers said they weren’t given an opportunity to provide feedback on the pilot program, according to the survey results.

Roughly 90 percent of the teachers said they hadn’t been asked by the DOE to provide feedback on the various metrics of the evaluation system.

Noelani Elementary’s Brummel echoed the survey results, saying that most teachers she’s spoken to feel like they’re on the outside.

“Most of the problems they have is with the uncertainty with the entire system. They don’t really know what’s going on yet,” she said. “That uncertainty is causing a lot of anxiety and distrust.”

Both Brummel and Mulcahy said the DOE could do a better job of cluing teachers and other community members into the task force’s findings and progress. Mulcahy also said the task force would benefit from more teacher and principal representation.

Still, Brummel said discussions at task force meetings have allowed her to appreciate the EES more than she did prior to joining the committee.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect system. So much of teaching is based on feelings and day-to-day moments of success, so I struggled (with the EES),” she said. “There’s an unknown with children. But I do think it’s important to have something there to be our mirror for us to be able to check ourselves.” Noelani became became a pilot school this school year.

Critics accuse the DOE of not allowing teachers to serve on some forums aimed at shaping school district policy.

But the Castle Foundation’s George pointed to teacher focus groups that the DOE organized in some school zones to improve the evaluation process at it expanded to the pilot schools.

Moanalua Middle’s Wong said most educators would agree on what types of barriers are thwarting Hawaii schools’ success. But what’s obstructing real solutions, she said, is a lack of unity within the school system.

“If we all know we’re all in the same system, why aren’t all our efforts focused on the same targets?” Wong said.

Wong aid the state needs to expand its training to all branches within the DOE — not just the Office of Human Resources. Divisions such as the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support should be involved in the rollout process, too, she said.

“When the branches work independently, the schools feel like everyone is coming at them from different directions, and they don’t see the integration of efforts but a multitude of tasks in isolation,” she said, noting that the task force lacks student representation. Wong suggested that the DOE form training teams made up of representatives from the various branches whose ultimate goal is on improving student achievement rather than coming up with a teacher evaluation system.

“Right now, things are just coming down for all different branches,” she said.

Overview of GTGL Task Force Members:

Category Name Biography (from DOE website)
Teacher Kristen Brummel Brummel is a National Board Certified fourth grade teacher at Noelani Elementary. Recognized as Hawaii’s 2011 State Teacher of the Year, she is also a mentor teacher, grade-level chairperson, guest lecturer, educational consultant, blog writer, after-school Lego Robotics instructor, and community volunteer.
Teacher/union Joan Lewis Lewis is a teacher at Hoola Leadership Academy at Kapolei High School and HSTA secretary-treasurer. She started with the DOE over 22 years ago as a teacher at Nanakuli High & Intermediate. Lewis has been a teacher at Kapolei High School for over 10 years.
Principal (former) Caroline Wong Wong is the former principal of Moanalua Middle School and retired from the DOE after more than 40 years of service. A few of her previous positions included Student Support Services Branch Comprehensive Student Support Services educational specialist, Moanalua High vice principal, and Aiea Intermediate cohort vice principal. Wong was named the 2005 Hawaii State Middle School Principal of the Year and previously served on the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board. She is active in numerous educational associations, including the Association of School Curriculum Development, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Hawaii Association of Secondary School Administrators (past president), National Middle School Association, and Hawaii Middle School Association.
Principal Francine Honda Honda is the Kailua High School principal and HGEA Unit 6 director. She was named 2009 High School Principal of the Year and is a member of the Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center Executive Committee. Honda’s DOE career spans over 43 years, serving in various positions from elementary teacher and vice principal to personnel specialist and principal.
DOE Tammi Chun Chun is the Hawaii State education policy analyst, and former Hawaii P- 20 Partnerships for Education executive director. She previously held positions with GEAR UP Hawaii, the RAND Corporation, the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and at Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now (LEARN).
DOE Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui Lupenui is the principal and founder of The Leader Project and serves on the Board of Education as the student achievement committee chair. Formerly, she was the CEO of the YWCA of Oahu. She also served on the boards of Hawai’i Tourism Authority’s Hawaiian Resource Advisory Board, the Center for Asian Pacific American Women, and Aloha United Way.
DOE C. Suzanne Mulcahy Mulcahy serves as complex area superintendent for the Kailua/Kalaheo complex area schools. Her previous positions include kindergarten teacher, special education teacher, vice principal at Castle High and principal at Kailua Intermediate. In 2009, she was the Windward Oahu District’s nominee for Hawaii Middle School Principal of the Year. She also served as president of the Hawaii Association of Middle Schools in 2006-2007.
DOE Doug Murata Murata is the Hawaii Department of Education assistant superintendent for human resources. Previously he served as Royal State National president/CEO, Hawaii Superferry director of human resources, Honolulu Board of Water Supply chief strategic development officer, American Benefit Plan Administrators vice president – Hawaii, Pacific Guardian Life vice president and managing director, Queen’s Hawaii Care president and principal of The Rubicon Group.
Business Mark Fukunaga Fukunaga is the chairman and chief executive officer of Servco Pacific, Inc. and UH Board of Regents member. He sits on a number of boards of organizations, including Hoku Scientific, Nippon Golden Network, Outrigger Enterprises, Children’s Discovery Center, Contemporary Museum, Hawaii Business Roundtable, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Japan America Society, Japanese American National Museum, KCAA Preschools, Pomona College, Punahou School and the University of Hawai’i Foundation, McInerny.
Business Sharon Narimatsu Narimatsu is the retired president of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce and former deputy director for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. A 25-year faculty member and administrator at the University of Hawaii, Narimatsu served as provost for Leeward Community College from 1998 to 2000.
Nonprofit Terry George George serves as vice president and executive director of Harold K.L. Castle Foundation. He volunteers on several nonprofit advisory boards as well as on the boards of the HMSA Foundation and The Learning Coalition. Previously he served as chief program officer of the Consuelo Foundation and program officer for human rights and governance for the Ford Foundation in the Philippines.
Union (former) Joan Husted Husted is on the PBS Board of Directors and the AUW Board of Directors. She also serves as a member and chair of the State Commission of the Status of Women, the State Tax Review Commission and the Temporary Commission on Comparable Worth. Husted retired as executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association in 2007 and served as HSTA’s chief negotiator since 1972.
Union Al Nagasako Nagasako is the Hawaii State Teachers Association executive director, and former principal of Kapolei High School. He taught for many years and was principal of Nanakuli High School between 1990 and 1996. In 1996, he served as deputy district superinterident, and was appointed principal of Kapolei High School in 1999.
Charter Schools Megan McCorriston McCorriston is the executive director of Ho’okako’o Corporation, which serves as the local school board for three public conversion charter schools including Waimea Middle School on Hawaii Island, Kualapu’u Elementary School on Moloka’i, and Kamaile Academy in Wai’anae. She also serves on the Charter School Governance, Accountability and Authority Task Force. Formerly, she was the federal programs liaison for the Charter School Administrative Office.
Charter Schools Karen Street Street is the vice president of Organizational Development at First Insurance Company of Hawaii, Ltd. (FICOH). She previously worked at Central Pacific Bank as executive vice president of human resources, senior partner with The Partnership Guild and executive vice president of administration with Bank of America/Honfed. (Street has served as chair of the State Public Charter School Commission since July 2012.)

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