Like any government document, there are bright spots, to borrow a term from the document. There are also some glowing red embers that could signal trouble.
• It’s student-centered: The department has continued to design its operations around three primary goals: student success, staff success and successful systems of support. In a poster of the executive summary, there is this diagram that illustrates how the three goals should align.
This visual is a great metaphor for thinking about the department; the system surrounds and uplifts the staff, which surrounds and uplifts the students. It further underscores the idea that everything the department does should directly link to helping students.
• It values innovation: Another great part of this plan is the emphasis placed on school empowerment and innovation. Goal 3, section 1b states, “Foster a culture of innovation to support Student Success and to improve operations.” This gives us at the school level the opportunity to do what is best for our students. It is a broad statement, but one to be taken advantage of by teachers and principals working together and pushing for bottom-up change.
• There are concrete measures of success: Although a major portion of the plan is painted with broad strokes, one part is very straightforward: how the department plans on measuring success. There are 12 points to determine whether the DOE is getting the job done:
Moving to a spread of measurements instead of relying on standardized test scores is a great improvement. Unfortunately, some of these measures are not exactly indicative of success. Having half of our students complete a Career Technical Education Program of Study may help some students find an ideal career, but it is not exactly a necessity.
• A spare staff success section: I was greatly disappointed by the sparsity of this section. The objectives, in essence, are: hire teachers better and train teachers better. What the teaching community was really looking for was an indication of the future plans for teacher evaluations.
Should we rejoice that there is no language concerning them at all or be wary of what is to come?
• Not very transparent: The Strategic Plan mentions the word “transparency” three times. Yet Board of Education meetings have minimal minutes. There was not even a vote count for this proposition.
For the majority of the public who cannot attend the board meetings, there needs to be more showing and less telling in the area of transparency from the department. We have seen a greater push by Hawaii State Teachers Association members to get more transparency when the DOE fails to.
The Department of Education may have some difficulty instituting parts of the Strategic Plan.
• Poor inclusion of Nā Hopena Aʻo: The board passed Education Policy E-3 outlining the Nā Hopena Aʻo learning outcomes in 2015, and for the past year, I have been following and working with multiple partners to help implement HĀ in my school and across the state.
I was extremely upset with the poor inclusion of HĀ in the Strategic Plan.
There is a small explanation in the beginning and then again in the illustrated guide of the three goals. If the board was truly invested in changing the culture of the department to align with the HĀ goals, they would have applied them into the rest of the plan.
• This should have waited: The BOE made a terrible decision by rushing this Strategic Plan through instead of waiting for a few upcoming events, including:
• Accounting for governor’s ESSA plan: The Strategic Plan was released before the final draft of the governor’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan, which will outline the state’s plan to measure school success to be presented to the Federal Department of Education. If the ESSA plan just chooses the same measurements as the Strategic Plan and if that plan is vetoed, both documents will have to be amended. The ESSA plan is also a great example of how to write HĀ objectives into a concrete plan.
• Conflicts with upcoming contract negotiations: Both the HSTA and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, which represents the Hawaii principals, are renegotiating their contracts. HSTA plans to push for more teacher control of their content and classrooms, which may draw conflict from what has been laid out in the Strategic Plan.
During the board meeting, BOE Chair Lance Mizumoto stated: “This is a living document. It’s not something we put away on a shelf. It’s not a static document. It’s something we will continue to try to improve on.”
If the board and department do not adhere to his sentiments, then they can count on further pushback and frustration.
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Ethan ʻOnipaʻa Porter is a Social Studies instructor at Campbell High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in Hawaiian Studies and Political Science and
a Certificate in Secondary Education, Social Studies, both from the University of Hawaii Manoa.