Saturday, November 28, 2015         

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Bill gives superintendent power to revamp failing schools

By Mary Vorsino


For a third consecutive year, the state Department of Education is seeking support for a measure that would give the superintendent extraordinary powers in attempting to turn around failing schools, including replacing all or most teachers and contracting with private entities to oversee improvements at schools.

The unions for teachers and principals strongly oppose the bill, saying shifting personnel would circumvent their contracts and unfairly punish individuals for the overall poor performance of a campus.

The department, though, says the bill is more important than ever as the state moves toward sweeping educational reforms under federal Race to the Top initiatives.

The measure, House Bill 339, was advanced by the House Education Committee yesterday despite the union concerns and is poised to go before the House Finance Committee. In previous years, similar bills have received overwhelming support in the House, but stalled in the Senate.

State Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said at the hearing yesterday that the bill would demonstrate the Legislature's commitment to "transformative educational reform" as outlined in Hawaii's Race to the Top plans. Hawaii was one of 10 winners -- nine states and the District of Columbia -- in a second round of Race to the Top grants last year. Hawaii will receive a total of $75 million over four years.

Matayoshi said the bill "clarifies the superintendent's authority."

Under the measure, the superintendent could seek to "reconstitute" a school if its students have failed to meet reading and math proficiency goals for years and is in restructuring under the No Child Left Behind law.

The bill would allow teachers to be moved to other department positions.

Reconstitution has been tried in several school districts in other states, with mixed results.

Statewide, 92 schools are in restructuring under NCLB, but officials have stressed that reconstitution would likely be sought at a handful of campuses.

Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said in testimony submitted yesterday that the measure would be a "morale buster."

"HSTA believes that reconstitution based on NCLB benchmarks is an imprudent approach to addressing the problem of restructuring schools," Okabe said. "Moving personnel from one school to another without the necessary supports ... in place does not ensure student achievement."

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