It's Time To Reconsider What We Want From Hawaii's Public Schools - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Denise Karratti

Denise Karratti is a Hawaii State Teacher Fellow who earned an M.A. in Teaching from the University of Hawaii-Manoa. Now in her third year at Chiefess Kamakahelei, she teaches 7th-grade AVID, 6-8th grade English and is also an academic coach.

Identity theft. You hear the phrase and perhaps visions of credit cards and bank statements begin to dance in your head. But what about identity theft in our schools?

We each belong to multiple groups, whether it’s race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, language, age, disability and so on. Our identity is a unique blend of our group associations, strengths, and needs.

Yet with our need for order and organization, do our schools silence students’ and teachers’ identities and thus are inadvertently responsible for identity theft?

It sounds outlandish; some might even say preposterous. Of course our schools would never admit to such intentions.

But, if we examine our practices thoughtfully, do we expect all students to learn a certain way, do certain types of work, take certain types of assessments and the like? Do we glaze over the assets, experiences, and resources every individual has to offer and instead cater to a majority, revere certain types of learners, certain types of families, or even certain types of teachers?

Nanaikapono Elementary School sign. Spread Kindness Not Covid, during COVID-19 pandemic. December 9, 2020
The pandemic has highlighted problems at our schools regarding equity. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The pandemic has done many things, one of which is to magnify gaps and opportunities. Gaps become glaringly apparent as schools scramble to meet the needs of their diverse populations.

Such inequalities harm both students and teachers. Some groups of students are faring far better than others and some groups of teachers are faring far better than others.

By disrupting how things are done, the pandemic provides us an opportunity to question why things are done and perhaps discover some better ways. As many traditions fall by the wayside and new ways of doing things start to arise, let us ask ourselves some hard questions.

Overarching Issues

To start, we might ask three overarching wonderings:

  1. What/who do our current practices promote/support?
  2. What is working and should be perpetuated?
  3. What should be disrupted or discontinued?

Digging a little deeper, one might want to look more specifically at students and their families by asking questions like the following.

Do our practices support students and families:

  • With multiple students in a household?
  • Where students live in multiple homes?
  • Who are houseless or jobless?
  • Where adults hold multiple jobs?
  • Who are without reliable internet services or electronic devices?
  • Who are not yet proficient in English?
  • With a limited support network?

And yet, while we are all here to serve our students and their families, we cannot do that effectively without taking a look at the systems and supports available to our teachers. Here are just a few questions to help get that ball rolling:

  • Do our professional development services support varying levels of tech readiness?
  • Do our school communications address our multigenerational workplace?
  • Do our systems differentiate support for the various stages of a teacher’s career (beginning teacher, 10-plus years, nearing retirement)?

If the answer to any of the above questions is a “no” it’s a green light for growth!

My hope is that schools will leverage this moment to redefine what we want school and education to be so that we can better serve our students, their families, and essentially our communities. We must re-examine our systems and practices, building a sense of belonging to ensure that we are not only supporting individuals but also harnessing the valuable resources each has to offer.

It is through our collective strengths that we will generate innovative solutions to meet unprecedented challenges.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

The Time For Climate Action Is Now

Not a subscription

Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.

Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.


About the Author

Denise Karratti

Denise Karratti is a Hawaii State Teacher Fellow who earned an M.A. in Teaching from the University of Hawaii-Manoa. Now in her third year at Chiefess Kamakahelei, she teaches 7th-grade AVID, 6-8th grade English and is also an academic coach.

Latest Comments (0)

March 2020 was the time to cease this opportunity for redesigning education in Hawaii. Sad that it is a year later that it goes public. Hopefully the wheels have been turning. One of the problems is that there are not many alternatives for kids that don't excel in classroom environment. Hands-on learners. Unless you want to do ag-work there is nothing. There is also a lack of mentorship. Some kids just don't jive with their families no matter how supportive they are. A mentor is a good 3rd party that can help them see the realities of life. There is no doubt that the "sit and listen" to the talking head is very outdated and stale. The education system needs creativity and the funding to make drastic changes that empower teachers to develop their teaching skills to stimulate the 21st century student. Hawaii DOE admin has to be more bold in its creative solutions. If the answer to a new idea is, "we've always did it this way" or " that would make more work for the ...staff", then its time to come upo with creative solutions and take some chances as a team and drop the anchors.

Ziggy · 2 years ago

Give each family the $12k per year, per student (that the State pays to DOE) and let the parents decide how best to educate their kids. 

KeolaRichard · 2 years ago

Let me offer my perspective as a immigrant from a poor country who came to America with $600 and barely any English. Yes, "we each belong to multiple groups." However, let us not forget that the primary reason we (or our ancestors) all came to America is because America - both in its most important founding principle and very much in practice - rejects tribalism, unshackles the individual from the baggage and limitations of various group associations, "whether it’s race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, language, age, disability and so on," gives everyone a second chance, and lets the everyone earn respect, earn a living, and shine as an individual. At home and in our private lives, many of us are still very much "hyphenated Americans," celebrating the culture, traditions, religions and holidays of our native lands and our ancestors - but in the public life, for our own good and for the common good of our adoptive country all its people, we should all be just Americans. Schools should be great equalizers teaching universal objective truths commonly known as "academics." Tribalism should have absolutely no place in our schools, whether public or private.

Chiquita · 2 years ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.