Clarification: After this story was published, Elly Tepper wanted to clarify her position on the New Teacher Center. She did not intend to criticize the center’s work in Hawaii schools but rather highlight the accomplishments of a successful in-house mentoring and induction program that was in existence long before the center partnered with the state.
The Hawaii Department of Education has paid nearly $3.5 million since 2012 to a national nonprofit to design and implement mentoring and induction programs for new public school teachers.
The California-based organization — the New Teacher Center — is charged with providing “comprehensive instructional mentor training” to all new-teacher mentors across the state while building local leadership networks to spearhead the efforts, according to its Hawaii director, Keri Shimomoto.
These mentors, most of whom are also classroom teachers, are training to support the roughly 3,600 DOE teachers who are in their first three years in the profession.
But some educators wonder whether the result of that statewide partnership, New Teacher Center Hawaii, is worth the $3.5 million — money that could, in theory, pay the salaries of an additional 60 or so teachers. Many schools already had thriving mentoring and induction programs in place, including ones customized to their area and demographics.
Some teachers told Civil Beat they haven’t even heard of the center, while others wonder about the return on investment. The $3.5 million isn’t enough to develop a network of full-time mentors, and what remains could end up being the same mishmash of mentor services that the DOE wanted to overhaul.
“In a way, they’ve had to let go of some of the foundational pieces that made (the New Teacher Center) so valuable,” said Elly Tepper, a former teacher who coordinates the Windward District’s induction program and also works as a full-time mentor. “Instead, you just have an army of isolated people (part-time mentors), some of whom have been appointed and who have a full plate already … You lose that confidentiality, that dedicated time, that professionalism of comprehensive mentoring.”
Educators emphasize the importance of such programs in strengthening teacher retention, enhancing instructional quality and boosting morale on campus — particularly in a state where about 55 percent of beginning teachers leave their jobs within the first five years, according to 2013 data.
A 2008 needs assessment found that “there was a patchwork of induction programs across the state, some better than others,” Shimomoto said. The finding prompted the DOE to make induction and mentoring one of its six priorities and adopt new standards in 2011.
The partnership with the New Teacher Center has been funded in large part by the state’s federal $75 million Race to the Top grant, which stipulated stronger induction and mentoring programs. The initial two-year $3.12 million contract with the center, which took effect in 2012 and included all the overhead costs, was renewed for another year this July, adding another $347,000 to the DOE’s bill to cover a few additional services. The DOE has the option of extending the partnership another two years after this. (See below for the contracts.)
The New Teacher Center touts its approach to induction, which focuses on professional development for mentors, data analysis and peer collaboration.
“We want to solve the problem that new teachers and new principals aren’t as great as they will be in a few years,” said Tracey Kremer, a spokeswoman for the New Teacher Center, in a June interview with Civil Beat.
The New Teacher Center Hawaii is tasked with customizing the trainings to meet the varied needs of schools and “provide authentic learning experiences … that reflect Hawaii’s students, teachers, principals and school communities,” the contract says.
The DOE “benefits from the expertise, breadth and depth of the (New Teacher Center’s) induction work and its national networking opportunities are on the cutting edge of induction work in the country,” Shimomoto said.
The center, which has eight offices across the country and works in 26 school districts, can increase teacher retention by as much as 20 percent, according to its website.
Shimomoto says retention in the state has improved since the establishment of the New Teacher Center Hawaii, pointing to a recent survey of about two-thirds of the DOE’s 1,300 first-year teachers showing that just 3 percent of them planned to leave the profession this year. Meanwhile, 91 percent of principals surveyed said that mentors enhance student learning.
But whether those improvements can be directly attributed to the New Teacher Center is unclear.
Many schools had long had their own strategic induction programs in place before the inception of New Teacher Center Hawaii, and some educators question whether the center is adding anything new. Regional initiatives that already existed before the state contracted with the center include the Kahua Induction Program, which provides Hawaii-focused, culturally relevant mentoring to new teachers in Kau, Keaau and Pahoa schools, and the longstanding induction program at schools in Oahu’s Windward area.
Some mentors have requested they be excused from the New Teacher Center training, reasoning that it’s superfluous, according to Darrel Galera, a recently retired DOE principal who most recently oversaw Castle High School and who hass publicly criticized the department’s leadership.
To date, the center has trained 600 mentors in Hawaii, according to Shimomoto. Mentors across the state can participate in the center’s training sessions. Shimomoto said the center has also built “local capacity” by training, coaching and certifying 15 local educators to deliver the center’s mentor trainings.
All beginning public school teachers in Hawaii are assigned a trained mentor who works with them one to two hours a week, according to the DOE, though some school-level educators question whether that mandate is always fulfilled.
“They would like us to meet more often than we are able to,” said longtime Moanalua High School English teacher Liane Voss, who worked as a mentor until this year. “It’s difficult to find the time to meet everybody.”
Moanalua High has about five mentors, all of whom are also classroom teachers.
At least one group of schools — comprising the Windward District — has asked for exemptions from certain New Teacher Center directives, including those related to personnel organization and trainings, because it already has a strong program.
“We would do fine without (the New Teacher Center), but we know it’s for the greater good,” Tepper said. “There’s an understanding that … it shouldn’t bring us down, that we shouldn’t have to lower our standards or change our program or our principles.”
The Windward District, which includes 31 schools from Kailua to the North Shore, initiated its highly acclaimed induction program in 2000, when the district became the “guinea pig” for what was supposed to be a statewide mentoring model, Tepper said. The state ultimately couldn’t pull together the funds to roll the program out statewide, but Windward District schools kept it intact, pooling its No Child Left Behind funds.
Today, what sets the Windward District program apart from most in Hawaii is that each of its nine team members mentor full-time, according to Tepper. The district relies on an unconventional budget formula to pay for the program, tapping into an array of funding sources, including Race to the Top money, discretionary cash and other grants. This year the nine mentors are training 148 teachers.
The value of full-time mentors — versus classroom teachers who mentor on the side — is that “we come in as an outsider to the school culture, not as an agent of the principal or a peer on campus,” Tepper said. That allows the mentors to build trust and rapport and guarantee confidentiality.
The mentors meet with beginning teachers every other week, engaging in intensive one-on-one coaching based on a model that focuses on non-judgmental peer collaboration and self-directed learning. They also work with experienced educators who are new to Hawaii, as well as “at-risk” teachers: those with low evaluation ratings or who are otherwise struggling in the classroom.
The program, Tepper said, doesn’t just prevent teachers from leaving the profession — it makes them better at their jobs.
“We’re not … directing (teachers) to do specific things,” Tepper said. “We’re showing them how to think (their instruction) through and draw on all the resources they can … we’re getting away from those rigid one-size-fits-all approaches that you get when you have a statewide model.”
The Windward District program, according to Tepper, is very similar to the New Teacher Center’s typical approach to mentoring: full-time mentors who meet with teachers regularly and frequently using a collaborative approach.
But that’s not what’s happening in Hawaii, Tepper says.
Some areas have struggled to provide the same level of support as the Windward District. In many cases, schools can’t afford or arrange for full-time mentors, meaning that the onus is on classroom teachers who are willing to devote the extra time as “on-site mentors” coaching as many as five of their colleagues. Most of the New Teacher Center trainees are classroom teachers who also agree to mentor.
Back in 2012, when the DOE first endeavored to implement a statewide induction program, it “needed to find something that they could put in place, a package deal” but with limited funding, Tepper said. “So they did this approximation that helped them adapt to the on-site mentors. From our point of view, that’s taking the heart out of it.”
Voss of Moanalua High said she hadn’t even heard of the New Teacher Center. Much like other school districts in Hawaii, the district that includes her school has its own mentoring program: Kahikukala.
“I don’t even know what we would do with (the New Teacher Center),” she said.
The DOE acknowledges that many schools have existing programs, stressing that the New Teacher Center compliments what’s already being done.
“Complex areas have built upon any existing programs to grow more robust induction programs, to accelerate the effectiveness of Hawaii’s teachers,” Shimomoto said.
Meanwhile, Kremer, of the New Teacher Center, emphasized Hawaii’s schools are in the driver’s seat.
“We’re as responsive as we can to whatever states already have,” she said. “We want to ensure every single new teacher has access to the kind of support we’re trying to build … support so they’re able to connect to students and really make a difference for them.”