Students join chorus of voices calling for higher teacher pay to tackle shortage

Updated: Dec. 2, 2019 at 5:27 PM HST
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EWA BEACH, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - There’s a big push for better pay for teachers ― and it’s not just coming from the teachers themselves.

A day before the state announces a major effort to tackle the teacher shortage, a high school freshman is speaking out about the problem.

Campbell High student Jahstyce Ahulau, 14, said she learned about the teacher shortage the hard way ― by getting teachers who weren’t trained to instruct the classes they’d been assigned.

“It’s scary because we come here, we look at our teachers as role models,” she said.

"I started to see my peers suffering not understanding what the teachers were trying to get across to us," added Ahulau.

At Campbell High, the state's largest public school, there are 25 to 50 substitutes to fill the gap.

It was tough lesson about economics in Ahulau's science class.

“A letter was sent home that my biology teacher wasn’t certified and that put things into place that we do have vacancies, but it’s so much bigger than what we thought it was.”

Sherry Cassetta, a math teacher who has a doctoral degree and has taught at Campbell High for 10 years, said substitutes are unqualified to teach in major content areas.

But, Cassetta said, the are working in areas like math, English and science.

According to the teachers union, starting salaries for licensed teachers are $49,000 per year ― the lowest in the country factoring in Hawaii’s high cost of living.

To highlight the issue, Ahulau is organizing a community conference called “Fighting for Our Future.”

The event is Dec. 18 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Campbell High School. She’s also planning a rally at the state Capitol next year to fight for more teacher pay and greater teacher retention.

"This is a fight because all of the knowledge that I have within me is from my teachers and that's the stuff that's going to help me in the future," she said.

On Tuesday, the governor plans to unveil a major a proposal to increase pay for special education and Hawaiian language immersion teachers along with those who teach in hard-to-staff areas.

Also this week, the Board of Education will consider a pay differential proposal for teachers.

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