Do you have keiki attending a public school on the Waianae Coast? Are you an uncle, auntie, tutu of a keiki attending public school on the Waianae Coast? Did you know that Hawaii’s public schools kicked off the 2016-17 school year short 625 teachers?

Nearly 25 percent of those vacancies are in our Waianae coast schools. This is not new news. Waianae schools are shy about 150 teachers every school year. That means that one of your keiki is very likely to be in a classroom with an individual who does not have the tools, training or support to deliver an education they deserve.

Low teacher salaries and lack of teacher support contribute to the recurring challenge of teacher shortage. It is time to look at our community to address this crisis situation.

An educational researcher who studies teacher turnover and retention rates across the nation, Richard Ingersoll, estimates that teacher attrition costs Hawaii $6.2 million to $13.6 million per year. These costs include mainland recruitment and hiring costs, which in some cases includes hiring bonuses and stipends for hard-to-staff schools.

Not calculated is the impact on students who persistently experience one new teacher after another each year and sometimes mid-year, many of whom come from a different community and/or state than our Waianae Coast students. The sharp cultural disconnect is a taxing reality that teachers and students must navigate as they build a learning environment.

As a result of cultural disconnect and lack of consistent teachers, students in these schools statistically perform at the bottom of our state in reading, math and science. The lack of a stable teacher pool committed to teaching in our community is a contributing factor, which is why it is necessary to develop a pool of committed individuals as an asset to addressing this crisis.

Our state needs to invest in community driven and rooted solutions rather than pouring resources into teacher recruitment efforts on the mainland. We propose redirecting that line item in the Department of Education budget to community teacher preparation programs.

Meeting The Need By Growing Our Own

It is argued by some that teacher preparation programs here in Hawaii cannot provide enough graduates to fill the teacher vacancies. However, even with mainland recruits, certain hard-to-staff schools still have vacancies. Long-term substitutes are placed in the classroom, many of whom end up teaching half if not the whole year.

Educational assistants and paraprofessionals are often called upon to manage and teach the class when a teacher suddenly picks up and leaves mid-year. EAs and paraprofessionals and substitutes also have longer track records than many of the licensed teachers in Waianae schools. In recent weeks we met four EAs in Waianae who have been working proudly for the Hawaii Department of Education for 20-plus years.

More than 80 percent of EAs and paraprofessionals are from the same communities as their students. These “less-than-teacher” hires are committed to students and schools in their communities and often relied upon to fill the gap and assume all the same responsibilities of a “credentialed” teacher, but are paid at a lower rate.

When considering the DOE’s plan to fill the 625 teacher vacancies with substitutes, the DOE will save between $3 million and $12 million because substitutes will be paid at the lower substitute rate (estimated on salary rates posted on the DOE website for 2016-17). Why not direct those “savings” to invest in teacher training programs that develop the academic and professional leadership of paraprofessionals, EAs and substitutes from our communities?

INPEACE’s Kulia and Ka Lama Education Academy is a community-based teacher development program that focuses on providing holistic, culturally-based supports to Waianae residents to become teachers in their own community in order to address the chronic teacher turnover in Wai‘anae DOE schools.

Over the past 20 years, the INPEACE KKLEA has supported about 125 Waianae residents to completion of education related degrees/certificates, many of whom still continue to work in Waianae Coast schools or in fields focused on Native Hawaiian education and well-being. INPEACE’s work in the community proves that Waianae residents can and will become the role models our keiki need when we invest in them.

Rather than continuing the current teacher recruitment efforts that overlooks EAs, paraprofessionals and substitutes who are filling those vacancies now, let’s think long-term to sustain our teacher workforce by hiring with the intent to develop, nurture and grow community members into the committed teachers our students need.

We need a system that views community members as assets to our schools with the potential, ability and commitment to be the teachers that students deserve at the head of the classroom. Let’s invest in a community-based teacher career ladder now. Join KKLEA and support our program in advocating for this solution!

To contact INPEACE’s KKLEA for further information, please call (808) 696-5556 or email us at Join INPEACE on Wed., Sept. 28, at 5:30 p.m. at Kamehameha Schools for a forum on “Reimagining the Meaning and Practice of Native Hawaiian Student Success.”

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