The department has made 690 local and 277 out-of-state hires to start the school year. 

The Hawaii Department of Education says it is starting the school year with significantly fewer teacher vacancies than it has had in recent years.

There are around 300 vacant positions in the system now, compared to over 1,000 vacancies at the start of the last school year.

The DOE credits a new online portal it launched on May 16 that allows teacher candidates to apply for positions at their preferred schools and pick subject areas they are interested in.

Previously, interested candidates would apply to an open job pool and then be sent to a school with a vacant position. The portal also aims to fill positions faster.

“We moved away from pool-based recruiting to community-based recruiting,” DOE Recruitment Administrator Gary Nakamura said.

The platform has gathered over 3,400 teacher applications so far and a total of 967 new teachers are being brought into the system for the new school year.

Haha’ione hahaione elementary school teacher shortage instructor Jenifer Evans
Jenifer Evans has been at Hahaione Elementary School for five years and said the new recruitment process is more appealing to interested candidates. She will have three new colleagues this school year. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Jenifer Evans, a third-grade teacher at Hahaione Elementary School, said the new process is more attractive for recruitment because it gives “applicants autonomy in finding what school site fits with their pedagogy rather than hoping for the best.” 

This effort would also improve retention rates because teachers will be working where they want to, Nakmura said. Approximately 1,200 teachers retire or leave the Hawaii system each year.

Teachers leave for various reasons, including not being a good fit for the location or the salaries offered. “Teacher pay in the state of Hawaii is ranked last in the nation when you account for cost of living,” Evans said.

The DOE is also looking beyond this year and partnering with schools such as Waipahu High, Farrington High and Pearl City High that have programs for recent graduates to get certified as substitute teachers.

“We need to grow our own teachers,” Nakamura said.

Developing targeted teacher preparation programs “will also help improve the pipeline of candidates for shortage areas,” DOE Communications Director Nanea Kalani said.

Even with the new portal, living costs remain the persistent challenge for recruiting teachers to the state.

Nakamura said that some teachers have got as far as accepting a position, but then had to rescind the offer because they couldn’t find housing in the designated school area within their price range.

“Progress with teacher housing can really help with teachers feeling valued and working within their budget to stay here,” Evans said of recent efforts aimed at expanding affordable housing for educators.

Eighty teachers recruited from the Philippines will help boost educator ranks for the new school year. (Hawaii News Now)

This year the state has also hired 80 educators from the Philippines as a part of its international recruitment efforts. They will be spread out across the state including on neighbor islands.

Lanai has been one of the hardest-to-staff locations, but this year, the DOE made efforts to start the academic year with a full roster of educators. 

Jerico Jaramillo is one of 10 Filipino teachers recruited to teach at Lanai High and Elementary School.

Jaramillo said that while he received an offer from Maui as well, he picked Lanai after learning about the years-long struggles with teacher recruitment. After teaching English for 11 years at home, he will teach Lanai High students senior-level English Language Arts.

“The people here are very welcoming,” Jaramillo said. “Working in a remote area is no problem for me at all.”

The Filipino educators are teaching in Hawaii on a three-year contract that can be extended to five.

“If given the chance to stay in Lanai, why not?” Jaramillo said.

Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.

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