Last year, when I would take attendance during our school’s advisory period, there was one name I was almost never able to mark “present.” She rarely came to school that year, but one day she came to class and was crying. I asked her to stay behind after class ended. I wanted to know what troubled her and if I could help.

She told me about the struggles she faced at home and the frustrations she felt with school. Challenges we wish no child would have to deal with but issues that are a reality for so many of our students in Hawaii. In that moment, I felt her pain. It was my first time to ever cry with a student.

Fast forward to this year, and she is a completely different young woman. She is now a student who rarely misses school, a social butterfly around campus and confident in her own beauty. She recently reflected to an audience how far she has come, thoughts on the people who helped her and gratitude for programs that supported her. She didn’t call her situation bad, but “complicated.” She understood she was behind a whole grade level and spoke of her desire to catch up and ultimately graduate from high school.

Public comments are being solicited through the end of May on the DOE and BOE strategic plan review and extension.
Public comments are being solicited through the end of May on the Department of Education and Board of Education strategic plan review and extension. Civil Beat/2010

She was honest about the challenges ahead, but said with a smile that she felt the care of her teachers, coaches, family and church members, who supported her and would continue to support her along the way. I again got teary eyed knowing that it was the united efforts of her caring and determined community of supporters that gave her a chance to be successful.

Students like her shouldn’t be the outlier with regard to addressing the real challenges that our students face both inside and outside of the classroom. In Hawaii today, we have a unique opportunity in front of us to provide every student the support they deserve. As a collective community, we have the opportunity to define student success and how students will be supported to obtain their aspirations.

The definition of student success should not come from a small group of passionate people. Real progress and effective change will only be realized through the collective voices and efforts of all of us.

On Dec. 10, 2015, President Obama signed into the law the Every Student Succeeds Act, replacing the No Child Left Behind Act with a law that received bipartisan support in Congress. The implication for Hawaii is that we now have greater local control of school accountability. As a state we will determine the best practices for how schools and students excel.

Through 2016, the Hawaii Department of Education and the Board of Education are embarking on a review and extension of the strategic plan that includes significant community outreach to gain a common understanding of what student success and high quality education looks like. By leading with our strategic plan, the department will be able to make an ESSA plan for the state that best supports students in achieving their aspirations.

Through the department’s community conversation blog and an online survey, educators, students, parents, business community members, legislators and others have an opportunity through the end of May to contribute input to this plan that will shape the future of public education in Hawaii.

The Hope Street Group State Teacher fellows, who include me, began partnering last month with the department and the board to help with gathering this important community voice.

As an educator, I’ve been inspired through this process to hear the voices of students, parents, teachers and community members on why education matters and their views on how best to create a system that supports students. One parent stated that she defines student success by “having life skills, living pono and having a love for learning.” A community member defined student success through “the ah ha moments that they feel and display with their peers and adults.” One of my students said student success “looks like teachers going out of their way to make sure students have the fundamental learning material they need to be successful in life.”

It is the contributions of voices like these that will transform education here in Hawaii.

The definition of student success should not come from a small group of passionate people. Rather, real progress and effective change will only be realized through the collective voices and efforts of all of us.

What truly made my student successful wasn’t just what I did individually as her teacher. Rather it was the collective effort of a caring community that believed in her and whose members worked together to provide vital academic and socio-emotional support for her needs. She has been elevated to a level of success that motivates her to keep striving and to stay focused on achieving her personal aspirations. Her community allowed her to experience success and encouraged her to believe that she can truly achieve anything.

There is much to celebrate in education here in Hawaii and much more work ahead to create a 21st century system that prepares our students to be successful. I encourage you to join the conversation to help shape this important work!

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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