Friday, November 27, 2015         

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Education audits ahead

The newly appointed BOE will vet policies, programs and schools

By Mary Vorsino


After taking a moment to recognize their elected predecessors, the appointed Board of Education tackled its first meeting yesterday, approving new bylaws and committees while pledging to find and fix problems in Hawaii’s public education system.

Board members voted to create an audit committee, whose first order of business will be to review the BOE’s policies and figure out which ones aren’t needed. The committee will later conduct audits of DOE offices, programs and schools.

“Historically, an audit is viewed as going out and finding all the problems,” BOE Chairman Don Horner said at the meeting. But the board, he said, is interested in “not simply identifying the problems, but identifying the solutions.”

Board members have said they want to give the superintendent more powers, improve the efficiency of the department and see real improvements in student achievement.

BOE member Brian De Lima said the meeting yesterday was a “good start” for a board promising big changes.

“We had some good dialogue,” he said. The superintendent “realizes we have nine members here who are rolling up their sleeves.”

The BOE met for much of the day, spending the morning covering organizational issues and listening to presentations from the Department of Education on its strategic plan, budget and $75 million federal Race to the Top grant, which pledges key reforms to improve student achievement, turn around low-performing schools and improve teacher effectiveness.

Before the BOE meeting officially started, board members sat down with Gov. Neil Abercrombie in a closed-door session.

Abercrombie did not give specifics on what was discussed, saying only that “education” was the topic.

The state’s “Sunshine Law” governing open meetings allows the governor to meet privately with a board “provided that the discussion does not relate to a matter over which a board is exercising its adjudicatory function.”

Abercrombie said after the meeting that his “confidence is in the Board of Education.” He added that his only advice for them is, “We’re here for the children’s interests, not anyone else’s. We’re not going to let budget barriers or considerations get in the way of making decisions that are in the interest of the child.”

Once the public meeting began, the board’s first action was to acknowledge its predecessors, the elected Board of Education. Five members of the elected BOE attended yesterday’s meeting.

“There’s not a more hard-working group of people,” Horner said. “On behalf of the board, I extend our appreciation.”

The new board yesterday also approved committees for student achievement, finance and infrastructure, and human resources; elected De Lima vice chairman; and voted to take up the department’s diploma policy.

In its final meeting the elected BOE approved a two-track diploma system, starting with the class of 2018, that would have students opting for either a “college or career ready” diploma or a regular diploma.

The DOE had pushed for the approval of the more rigorous college- and career-ready diploma as the default. Under the department’s proposal, students would only be allowed to opt out of the tougher requirements, which include Algebra 2, with parental permission.

Approval of the tougher graduation requirements was a key pledge in the DOE’s Race to the Top efforts, and yesterday schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said not having the more stringent diploma as the default was “our largest negative at this point” in meeting ambitious reform pledges.

Board members, though, said they weren’t convinced the college- and career-ready diploma is the answer, and were also not sure whether the two-track system was a viable option.

“The consensus is that we do expect rigor in that diploma,” Horner said at the meeting. “We also expect the homeroom teacher to be able to explain it (the requirements) to their students. We’re just asking for clarity.”

Kim Coco Iwamoto, who was on the elected BOE, testified at the hearing to express her concern about the college- and career-ready diploma, saying she didn’t believe schools were ready to provide enough support to students to meet the tougher requirements.

“If you do go down the road of requiring four years of high school math, (be sure) that you hold the department accountable for ensuring that we have the sufficient infrastructure,” she told the board.

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