More than 1,000 students, teachers, administrators and community members came to the governor’s education summit last month to share their ideas for transforming Hawai‘i’s public schools. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Kathy Murphy, executive director of the Hawai‘i Association for the Education of Young Children. “It’s so exciting. This event truly belongs to all of us who just want to do what’s best for the kids.”
The milestone July 9 event at the Hawai‘i Convention Center was organized by a 19-member Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) advisory team, led by retired principal Darrel Galera, to develop a 21st century “blueprint” for the state’s public schools. Feedback and recommendations from the summit will be taken to a series of town hall meetings (see schedule) and shared with the Department of Education and its board before the state submits its ESSA plan for federal approval in the spring.
“We’re expanding the team from 19 to 1,019,” Governor Ige said in his keynote address to the crowd in attendance. “Our public school system touches all of us. A strong education system is the foundation for strong families, strong communities and strong economies. We all have a stake in what we’re here to talk about today.”
The team was formed in response to the passage of ESSA, a landmark piece of federal legislation that gives states more control over their own school systems. Governor Ige said he sees the new law as a chance for Hawai‘i to build on current efforts and reimagine new kinds of meaningful classroom experiences for students.
“How do we create a public education system that prepares graduates for their futures — not our past?” he asked. “My vision for public education is future-focused, empowered school communities that inspire innovation, creativity and leadership in a healthy and safe learning environment.”
The cross-section of summit participants spent the day listening to policy experts and sparking their own discussions for how to improve the schools. Michael Sarmiento, vice principal of Ka Waihona public charter school in Nanakuli, said his school teaches appreciation for Native Hawaiian culture. “But it’s hard to capture what ‘success’ means on a standardized test.” Bernadette Howard, state director of Career and Technical Education, said she wanted to learn about the potential of the new law. “We need to prepare students to handle real-world problems.”
In closing remarks, Stephen Parker of the National Governors Association praised Governor Ige and his team for“bringing everyone to the table.” He said other states will be watching Hawai‘i as a model for community engagement. First lady and former school vice principal Dawn Amano-Ige echoed the sentiments of McKinley High tudent emcee Jade Raquel when she urged summit participants to feel empowered by the new ESSA law and work with the schools in their communities to “go for it.”
Photo: ESSA support team