Hawaii still at risk of losing $75m as federal educators evaluate the State DOE

Published: Mar. 27, 2012 at 10:20 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 27, 2012 at 10:59 PM HST
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State Rep. Roy Takumi
State Rep. Roy Takumi
Ruth Silberstein, Palolo Elementary School Principal
Ruth Silberstein, Palolo Elementary School Principal

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The State Department of Education is being put to the test.  Federal officials are in town to decide if Hawaii should get $75 million in Race to the Top grant money.

For an unexplained reason the full agenda for the four days of meetings has been kept secret but we found out some of the state's talking points.

Hawaii was already put on high risk status in jeopardy of losing the grant money for unsatisfactory performance.  Now the state has to prove it has made improvements.

The federal Race to the Top review team walked into the Department of Education this morning passing the construction netting in front of the building, which perhaps is a symbol of the fact that education in Hawaii is under renovation.

"There's progress now is it to the degree that the federal government is looking at? Is it to the degree that was in the original Race to the Top? That's the whole purpose of the visit," said State Rep. Roy Takumi, (D) House Education Committee Chair.

Rep. Takumi and other lawmakers are meeting with the federal official's at 7:30 tomorrow morning.  He plans to talk about success stories like Lanakila Elementary School which the federal review team is expected to visit.

"The federal government doesn't just take your word for it, what they want to see obviously is real progress," said Rep. Takumi.

Palolo Elementary School is another success story Rep. Takumi plans to talk about.  In 2002 11 percent of the students were at grade level reading and only one percent knew math.  Now 67 percent passed reading and 83 percent are proficient in math.  That's despite the fact that English is a second language for 58 percent of students and 97 percent are at poverty level.

"It's a lot of hard work and basically the bottom line is change of attitude and change of mindset," said Ruth Silberstein, Palolo Elementary School Principal. "The staff and everyone here have just worked so hard year after year."

Overall Rep. Takumi says Hawaii has worked on the Race to the Top assurances including adopting common core standards, reorganizing the superintendent's office, and increasing classroom and teacher development time.  Hawaii is also working on a teacher and principal evaluation system as well as a data system with the ability to study and track student success and struggles.

As for how the legislature can help, Takumi says that's relatively simple.

"Stay out of the way in some respects. I think there have been times in the past where the legislature in its attempt to help the schools has actually hurt the schools in micro managing what they should be doing. Let the schools have the flexibility and the autonomy to do what they do best," said Rep. Takumi.

"We are excited to have the U.S. Department of Education here in Hawaii to conduct their on-site visit. We have clear and compelling evidence to show the federal review team. Since the U.S. DOE's last visit in June 2011, Hawaii has made significant progress on all of the ongoing projects in our Race to the Top initiatives. We will move forward with our plans to transform Hawaii's public education system.  We remain committed to our mission that every child graduates college- and career-ready," said Kathryn Matayoshi, Hawaii Superintendent, in a written statement.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.