An ambitious new strategic plan outlining Hawaii’s goals for public school students over the next decade was unveiled by state education officials late last week.

While some Board of Education members lauded the Department of Education’s hard work over the last eight months to put it together, they requested more time to study the plan before voting on it.

“We should at least spend more than an hour … digesting it and inviting stakeholders to participate (in the feedback),” said board member Brian De Lima at a meeting Thursday.

DOE officials made the 29-page document public last Friday, giving the board less than a week to read it over and formulate questions for discussion.

Board members deferred taking any action on the plan until a later date.

Department of Education Vice Chair Brian De Lima during board meeting.
Board of Education member Brian De Lima said he thinks the board should “vet this (plan) out a little bit more.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hailed as “a bold plan” by school superintendent Christina Kishimoto, the DOE’s 2030 Promise Plan lays out ambitious targets to measure student success and achievement over the next decade.

It builds upon the 2017-20 strategic plan currently guiding DOE policy while proposing new initiatives, partnerships, leadership models and new metrics for gauging student success within the public education system. Those include student participation in community service and volunteer projects, and the amount of college credit coursework such as AP classes taken.

The plan is anchored around five core themes, or promises, that include Hawaii, Equity, School Design, Empowerment and Innovation.

Kishimoto told the education board that she plans to appoint advisory committees for each promise area to track progress and help address any challenges that arise.

The goals are broad and ambitious. The DOE envisions raising proficiency in language arts, where only 54% of students hit statewide achievement targets, and math, where only 43% of students meet the targets, to the mid-90% range within 10 years. The department also aims at lowering the chronic absenteeism rate from 15% to 3% in that same time frame.

The new strategic plan also represents a shift away from purely classroom-centered learning.

One sign of that is the plan’s emphasis on community service participation. It calls for grooming students to be good stewards of the land and engaged with the community around them.

Without providing specifics, the plan also assures the DOE will give students more opportunities for “thoughtful civic engagement and development of civic voice” through steps like “collaboration with community members and local business organizations to discuss and address community issues.”

Other novel ideas floated in the plan include providing more e-school course offerings; creating a digital system to coordinate internships and apprenticeships in high schools; providing more local healthy foods in school meals; and coming up with a framework for students to expand and even monetize entrepreneurial ideas imagined in their classes.

Dept of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto during meeting.
The 10-year strategic plan designed under the leadership of Superintendent Christina Kishimoto also emphasizes non-classroom initiatives such as creating more internships and apprenticeships, serving healthier food and promoting civic engagement opportunities for students. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In one of the largest workforce readiness initiatives in the new plan, the education department said it will create a new internship program in partnership with other state agencies to give students a chance to work within DOE.

“As the largest state employer, the HIDOE has many internal career pathway opportunities including information technology, engineering, electricians, construction management, safety and security, dietitians, business services, human resources and many other areas in addition to teaching,” the plan states.

The DOE employs roughly 22,500 people throughout Hawaii. The public school system serves about 179,000 students statewide in grades K through 12, including those in charter schools.

Aside from career and college readiness, the DOE is still stressing certain benchmarks that carried over from the current strategic plan — what they call “critical guideposts” such as teacher retention rate, third-grade literacy rate, the size of the achievement gap and special education inclusion rate.

However, those lofty and still unattained targets remain a sticking point for education advocates.


“What are the DOE’s deeper reflections on the 2017-20 Strategic Plan and why many key targets have not been reached, including chronic absenteeism, the achievement gap, and foundational academic proficiency?” HawaiiKidsCAN, an education policy nonprofit, posed in written testimony.

The group requested the education board defer adoption of the plan until those questions and others could be addressed by DOE.

Dept of Education Board member Bruce Voss.
Board of Education member Bruce Voss said he feared the student success indicators were not realistic. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

This sentiment was echoed in board members’ comments Thursday.

Bruce Voss reminded DOE officials that the 2017 strategic indicators were very ambitious, very aggressive, and he sees the new targets as not much of a pare-back.

“Candidly, a bunch of them, we’re not even close to achieving,” Voss said. While he commended the ambitious nature of the targets, “we also want them to be realistic and attainable, so the public doesn’t see this as just a pie in the sky, aspirational goal we won’t ever attain.”

Kenneth Uemura, chairman of the BOE’s Finance and Infrastructure committee and a certified public accountant, urged the DOE to consider the fact that a realistic strategic plan must also consist of an operating plan laying out how goals will be achieved and a financial plan for how those things will be funded.

“I don’t see any of that in here,” he said at the meeting.

The DOE relied on input from teachers, parents, business leaders and community members to shape its new Promise Plan over the last eight months. More than 2,700 people clustered into 83 stakeholder groups and roughly 300 people participated in an online survey to offer feedback on what the new plan should include, according to DOE.

“The desired result is equitable access to a quality public education for every child so that they are educated, healthy and joyful learners who contribute positively to our global community,” a memo introducing the plan states.

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