Future of Hawaii's public schools focus of day-long summit

Future of Hawaii's public schools focus of day-long summit
Gov. David Ige (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Gov. David Ige (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 1,000 educators, policymakers and others gathered Saturday to help draw up a blueprint for the future of Hawaii's public education system.

The summit, at the Hawaii Convention Center, was organized by a governor-appointed task force charged with overhauling Hawaii's public school standards and testing.

Educators at the summit said they're looking forward to improving schools -- and moving away from tests-driven curricula.

"I need some inspiration," said Mary Kate Powers, a teacher at Kalaheo High School. "I'm pretty frustrated with the way things are going."

She added, "It should all be about learning, complex thinking and qualitative measures."

Gov. David Ige and the members of his task force invited a variety of stakeholders to attend the summit and exchange ideas about what Hawaii's school should look like.

"The fact that we have all stakeholder groups represented in this summit today is really the start of a broader conversation," Ige said.

The governor's task force was formed to develop a blueprint for new national requirements aimed at changing how Hawaii public schools measure success, and bring the state in line with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces the controversial, testing-focused No Child Left Behind Act.

President Barack Obama signed ESSA in December 2015 to give more local and less federal authority over public education.

Hawaii leaders say the new national requirements offer a perfect opportunity to take a fresh look at the state's school system and tackle areas of need.

"I think this is a wonderful opportunity for the state to really decide what's best for our students rather than us having a one-size-fits-all mandate from the federal government," said teacher Sharon Look.

Mililani High School graduate Brennan Lee added, "A connection between a student and teacher is important because after that, learning just happens naturally."

The 19-member ESSA team, which does not include Hawaii's schools superintendent, will ultimately be responsible for creating new recommnedations aimed at transforming Hawaii's public education for the better.

"We shouldn't be limited by the words of the law when we should be inspired by what we believe in our schools and what we need for our kids," said ESSA team Chairman Darrel Galera.

DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi added, "We need to shift away from the old model of teachers standing in front a classroom with a single textbook and talk about things kids can experience."

The summit Saturday will be followed up with town hall meetings on the neighbor islands, beginning next week.

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