Hawaii community groups plan to convene dozens of local educators this summer to help build an open-source digital collection of lesson plans and teaching materials that will be free and accessible to students, teachers and parents by 2022.

Funded with half of the $10 million of a federal grant the state received last April to address pandemic-related learning loss, the effort addresses the need to develop more place-based, culturally relevant content for use in the classroom and home.

The HOPE Initiative envisions the development and distribution of engaging online course material that will be open source and free to parents and educators by 2022. Courtesy: Hawaii Department of Education

The abrupt transition from traditional classroom-based instruction to virtual learning after the coronavirus crisis began last spring led to many problems due to the wildly uneven and inconsistent quality of the online programs that were available.

Many schools relied on Acellus Learning Accelerator, a remote learning tool that the Hawaii Department of Education later determined contained harmful material.

Those spearheading the new Hawaii Online Portal for Education, dubbed the “HOPE Initiative,” say it will involve joint coordination between DOE public, charter and private schools and the University of Hawaii system for the benefit of the greater K-12 community in Hawaii.

“It’s more than just connecting to the internet, it’s (ensuring) that course materials are created and distributed in a format that can effectively be used by online learners,” said Garret Yoshimi, vice president for information technology for the UH system who is leading the project.

Officials have not provided many details but said the goal is to enroll up to 200 teachers in professional development workshops this summer and next, with the goal of creating the first version of this portal by the end of this summer.

These “teacher institutes” will work on building digital course content “to take us (away) from textbooks and physical artifacts,” Yoshimi said last week.

Up To 200 Teachers Will Participate In Summer Workshops

The focus will initially be on creating content for upper grades, such as middle and high school and those on track to enroll in Early College, a program that allows high schoolers to accrue college credit.

Yoshimi said leaders are seeking those “shining stars” in the local education community to participate in the summer workshops, with the help of such partners as Education Incubator, which supports innovative education ideas and projects; the DOE; UH College of Education and the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools.

The $9.9 million Hawaii received last April under the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund was part of the CARES Act package. States received considerable latitude on how to use the funds, but the idea was to assist local education systems including higher education.

Other states are using GEERF money to beef up career training programs, enhance financial aid for low-income students and purchase vehicles to allow teachers to travel to remote areas of their state, among other things.

The funds are separate from the $43 million the Hawaii DOE received under the CARES Act, much of which has been used to buy broadband hotspots and computers for students, set up summer learning hubs, expand e-school; and address health and safety needs for schools, according to the most recent breakdown.

In July, Hawaii released a preliminary report revealing that it planned to spend $5 million of GEERF to create what was initially called a “distance learning teacher academy” — now the HOPE Initiative — and $4 million for innovation grants to help public and private schools improve digital access and connectivity and help with parent training and support.

DOE, Kishimoto, Hallett, Senate, education, schools, budget, briefing
A screenshot of DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and DOE chief financial officer Brian Hallett briefing the Senate Ways and Means and Education committees Wednesday on the department’s budget situation. 

DOE spokesman Derek Inoshita stressed that the federal funds set aside for these innovation grants were separate from an internal DOE program that distributes grants to schools for “small-scale, groundbreaking projects” starting in 2018.

The latest federal relief bill signed into law late last year will steer an additional $183 million to the state for K-12 education and $14 million in GEER funds to be spent on K-12 and early childhood programs.

DOE officials are preparing a budget proposal for those funds, which will be presented to the Board of Education next week, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said Wednesday in a briefing to Senate lawmakers.

She said the latest round of federal stimulus will prioritize restoring funds that go to schools based on certain student characteristics, like the number of low-income students or English language learners.

“This is a high priority because without restoring some of that, we will have an impact on our capacity as far as our labor workforce having to be reduced,” she said.

Brian Hallett, the DOE’s chief financial officer, told lawmakers the department is facing a $100.2 million cut in carryover funds and $164 million in program reductions that amount to a total 22% reduction in state funding for public schools in the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years.

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