The state Board of Education on Tuesday approved an updated strategic plan that sets out expectations for public schools to do a better job of empowering students to set and achieve goals, prioritizing professional development and fostering innovation.

Approval of the updated joint BOE and Department of Education strategic plan for 2017-2020 comes as another education-improvement initiative by a governor-created task force outlines the values and visions for public education from kindergarten through college.

The board received an update Tuesday on the Hawaii’s Blueprint For Public Education, which is available online for public comment.

Members of the Board of Education listen to Tammi Oyadomari-Chun, superintendent of the Office of Strategy, Innovation and Creativity, as she answers their questions about the strategic plan.
Members of the Board of Education listen to a presentation from Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, center in back, on the updated strategic plan. Noelle Fujii/Civil Beat

Work on the two documents will help the state prepare for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act that gives more authority to states to decide how they want to test students, evaluate teachers and determine whether schools are successful.

Information from the documents will be incorporated into the state’s ESSA implementation plan that needs to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in the spring to receive federal funding.

Both documents focus on creating cultures where students are empowered to succeed, providing professional development opportunities for staff members and fostering innovation.

They also emphasize closing the achievement gap between high-needs students and their peers. 

‘Student-Oriented And Student-Focused’

Tammi Oyadomari-Chun, assistant superintendent for the Office of Strategy, Innovation and Performance, led the DOE’s effort to update its strategic plan. She said 57 percent of students statewide are considered high-needs students, meaning they are economically disadvantaged, are learning English or are receiving special education.

She said one emphasis of the plan is on determining what students want for themselves and how the DOE can help them reach their goals.

While the plan lays out visions for K-12 public education, it doesn’t say how they will be realized.  

“It doesn’t tell you you need to have program X. It’s more oriented to what should the experience be for students,” she told Civil Beat. “So we really tried to write this plan to be really student-oriented and student-focused.”

The plan also establishes indicators, including chronic absenteeism, teacher retention and repair and maintenance backlogs, to monitor how the DOE and its schools are doing.

Amendments were made to the plan at the meeting to include two new indicators that would measure progress in closing the achievement gap and monitoring how well educators are engaging with parents and families.

Further changes were made recognizing the importance of Hawaii’s two official languages and the role multiculturalism and multilingualism play in a meaningful education.

More than 60 groups and individuals submitted testimony in support of the plan and asked that language be added to specify that the plan applies to schools that instruct in the Hawaiian language, and that it considers both of Hawaii’s official languages equally.

Further amendments specified that addressing the needs of struggling students is the highest priority, and that because Hawaii has a shortage of teachers, schools should endeavor to ensure that the most vulnerable students are taught by highly qualified teachers, and that the DOE commit to filling positions with qualified teachers so each school year begins with classrooms fully staffed. That includes teacher positions in special education and English Learner classrooms, which are harder to fill.

Other amendments added language that said schools should not foster a culture of testing beyond what is required by the federal government, and that schools should focus on lowering their rates of chronic absenteeism.

Some people said  the plan needed to provide more detailed strategies for how its goals will be accomplished.

Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, told Civil Beat this week that he wanted the board to defer taking action on the plan because it doesn’t include policies to achieve the goals.

“In order to have conversation about how to improve education, the first thing that we need to start off with is actually putting down some policy in place for us to debate,” he said. “And that’s not occurring through the strategic plan.”

After the board unanimously approved the plan, BOE member Margaret Cox said that she believes the way the document is written leaves the schools with more autonomy to make decisions on how the plan will be executed.

Some Wanted Plans Consolidated

The governor’s task force blueprint is more detailed in laying out how to achieve the three main goals that the plans share: empowering students, training staff and fostering innovation.

Jim Shon, director of the Hawaii Educational Policy Center, submitted written testimony to the board saying he too would prefer it defer adoption of the strategic plan because of its lack of details for accomplishing its goals.

Shon said the plan should include strategies that explain the organizational, structural and curricula changes that would occur, and he called for it to be incorporated with the governor’s task force blueprint.

Other testifiers at the meeting agreed, saying they wanted to see the plans more aligned in describing the initial steps the DOE should take.

According to Darrel Galera, chairman of the governor’s ESSA team and a BOE member, the blueprint lists the state’s core values that are reflective of what Hawaii students, teachers, parents and school leaders want and is a document that sets a direction and will guide future education plans and policies.

Beginning in the next school year, the blueprint sets aspirations for schools to be the key unit of change and innovation, for the state DOE to provide a responsive and transparent support system for the schools and for a plan to be implemented to close the achievement gap.

Furthermore, Hawaii should aim to be nationally recognized for its education system by 2025, the blueprint states.

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