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Hawaii schools struggle to keep new teachers

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 09:07 a.m. HST, Aug 10, 2013


Jonathan Sager was an idealistic 22-year-old recent college graduate when he arrived in Hawaii in 2006, yearning to make a difference in the lives of children in hardscrabble neighborhoods like those on the Waianae Coast.

About an hour's drive from bustling Honolulu, the stretch of unspoiled beaches and looming mountains is home to a high concentration of Native Hawaiians and some of the state's lowest-performing schools. So Sager learned their culture, bought a condo and planned to stay.

After seven years, Sager, now 29, quit, packing up this summer for Texas and becoming the latest teacher Hawaii could not keep as it tries to fill a seemingly perpetual teacher shortage. He said he was frustrated by constant educational experimentation.

Now, administrators' efforts to retain teachers have taken on a new urgency as they try to make progress on promised reforms that won Hawaii a $75 million federal "Race to the Top" grant. Teacher retention is one of the keys to those reforms.

They are offering $1,500 bonuses to work in "hard-to-staff" schools and plan to increase that amount to $3,000 next school year. They are also holding classes in Hawaiian culture and language, and teaming new arrivals with veteran teachers to help ease the transition.

"This is a pretty big push for us," said Alex Harris, who is overseeing the state education department's "Race to the Top" efforts involving teachers. "We don't want to be recruiting at a high volume every year and losing professionals in their second or third year."

Hawaii — the only state with a single, statewide district — has long had to turn to the mainland because local teacher education programs can't produce enough graduates to fill classrooms across the islands, especially in remote schools.

Getting the newcomers to stay is difficult, as they face culture shock, a high cost of living and a vast ocean separating them from their families.

"I recruited hundreds of teachers," said Al Nagasako, who was principal at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School, where Sager taught. "You begin to select the good ones, and you know they're not going to stay."

The U.S. Department of Education criticized Hawaii for not doing a good job of publicizing the bonus for teachers to work in "hard-to-staff" schools, so Harris said the bonus has become a more prominent part of the pitch.

A new recruitment perk targets mainland teachers who can fill badly needed special education vacancies by offering them relocation bonuses, Harris said. The highest amount is $6,000 to work in Waianae or the Big Island's Kau, Keaau and Pahoa areas.

Those areas make up the low-performing, high-poverty schools that "Race to the Top" reforms are focusing on.

After his arrival, Sager, of Warren, Ohio, took a bus tour along with other new teachers and saw the poverty on the Waianae Coast.

Settling in required developing an ear for the pidgin English his students spoke and learning to pronounce vowel-laden names he never heard before. Even as he earned their acceptance, Sager said, he grew frustrated with feeling like he and his students were lab rats for experimental programs.

"We start and it's not perfect, so we scrap it and start over," he said.

State education officials are also offering a mentoring program, which began last school year, meant to help teachers feel supported, Harris said.

Nanakuli teacher Dennis Tynan bonded with a group of other teachers who were also adjusting to Hawaii when he arrived 10 years ago.

Tynan, 46, said the group helped him feel connected to the school. He also attributed his longevity to being older when he arrived from Texas, arming him with more life and classroom experiences. Now that he's one of two left in that group, he's starting to wonder about his future.

But those doubts are eased by his students, who no longer treat him like an outsider. He feels he owes it to his students to stick around.

"Here is a community of a marginalized ethnic group and because of the way everything gets structured in a bureaucratic schools system, they just get screwed over and over again," he said.

For some, the cost of living gets to be too much.

Kristen Wong, who left her job teaching special education on the Big Island to pursue a master's degree at Harvard University, met her fiance in Hawaii, but the costs of visiting their families on the mainland started to seem more daunting as they looked forward to having children.

Wong, 29, worked a second job most of her time in Hawaii to make ends meet. The entry level salary for the current school year starts at $33,169.

"It was really, really hard to make things work," she said. "I have student loans. I have a car loan ... I'm actually pretty fiscally responsible."

Now, state officials are focused on teachers like Owen Allsopp. The 22-year-old graduate of University of Massachusetts at Amherst is settling into teaching first-grade at Pahala Elementary on the Big Island and sharing a house with three new teachers.

Before the first day of school, he already had a good grasp of Hawaiian names and words. And he's aware of the pressure to keep him.

"I know it's so important because it's hard to create lasting change if there's so much transition happening," he said. "There needs to be serious commitment."






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Grimbold wrote:
Who is getting screwed ? It is the teacher who has to teach in an area where the ruffians and anti-learning attitude prevails in the population. Lowest performing schools at fault ? No! Lowest performing students due to their upbringing at home What are the reasons for such homes? I believe poor culture. Why is this a racial issue? If you try to apply logic you are a racist. Bang!
on August 10,2013 | 09:16AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Teachers should work wherever they are assigned to work. It shouldn't be difficult to staff leeward schools. This problem is manufactured by HSTA and the DOE via the employment contract with teachers. Assignments should be based on what is best for the students and general public, not the employee.
on August 10,2013 | 02:56PM
DAGR81 wrote:
Its all about the unions
on August 10,2013 | 05:52PM
bigislandkurt wrote:
C'mon editors! A Social Student teacher at Nakakuli in Waianae?
on August 10,2013 | 09:17AM
magnod wrote:
Who wants to teach out on the coast where parents show up to IEP meeting high or drunk? Especially when your pay is now merit based and depends on your students' academic success? Smart teachers will head out to the east or central areas.
on August 10,2013 | 09:30AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
They shouldn't even has a choice, if you accept a job with the DOE, you should work wherever they send you.
on August 10,2013 | 02:57PM
allie wrote:
I really think Hawaiians on the Waianae Coast need to face their own complicity in their own failure. Blaming it on others and expecting endless free money is a path to more failure.
on August 10,2013 | 09:36AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
You should apply that philosophy to your own American indian population, it sounds like a better description of them.
on August 10,2013 | 02:59PM
DAGR81 wrote:
and what about you and your "Tongan Bodyguards"
on August 10,2013 | 05:54PM
Kaimiloa wrote:
Another thing for new teachers is that they don't get their first paycheck for at least 6 weeks. When that check comes it is only two weeks pay. The DOE says that's just the way things are. The union says the same thing. I've seen many enthusiastic new teachers become quickly jaded about the DOE. They love the kids but start looking at Hawaii as just a temporary stop in their career journey.
on August 10,2013 | 09:49AM
allie wrote:
true...that is why TFA is such a failure
on August 10,2013 | 10:18AM
Anonymous wrote:
Listing the $33k entry-level salary is a bit misleading, that's for someone with only a BA and no teacher training. Those with education degrees or post-BA teacher training (the majority of hires) start in the low 40s.
on August 10,2013 | 10:38AM
Aquarius1 wrote:
$33k, $40k, still low salary for a teacher.
on August 10,2013 | 01:20PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
For one that actually works and does their job ..... I would agree even 40K is low. Our problem is Teachers have never been held responsible so many do not perform. It's been virtually impossible up until now to fire a non performing teacher, it may still be impossible. That is yet to be seen.
on August 10,2013 | 03:03PM
niimi wrote:
From 1970 through 2010 the largest growth in the Department of Education has been in the Central & District Offices. DoE Central is now 4 times larger in permanent employees. FOUR TIMES LARGER! And this does not include the hundreds of highly paid consultants employed by DoE every year. Statewide school headcount has remained largely THE SAME--174,000 students in 1970 to about 183,000 today. SO WHY IS THE DoE CENTRAL 4 TIMES LARGER? Our public schools were strong in performance back in the 1960s and 1970s, close to many private schools. Then we added cooks, and more cooks, and still more cooks around the pot, and student performance steadily declined. In fact student performance has deteriorated so far that they trail their private school counterparts by at least 1 grade level by the time they reach Middle School, and that gap widens further as the public school student traverses high school. I would be included then to take fully half of the Central Office headcount and put them into the schools--specifically the classrooms. So stupid are the public schools' Central administration. DoE cuts from the schools, cuts custodial staff yet they balloon the central office and pay for consultants at rates of $100 to $200 per hours. Put more staff into the schools and cut that darn Central Office way back. Prune it.
on August 10,2013 | 11:03AM
pcman wrote:
IRT niimi about DOE. The DOE central and district offices should not be permanent jobs. The administrators and resource teachers need to go back into the 'field' at least every 3-4 years. If the DOE wants to improve Hawaii's school system, they need to restructure the priorities for jobs. Teachers in the classroom should be paid $1000 more than teachers in the central and district offices. Teachers in Waianae and Nanakuli should be paid another $1000 extra. DOE should take over some of the State homes in Kalaeloa and offer them to teachers who teach in Waianae and Nanakuli for half the average price of state rentals. Teachers should want to teach in Waianae. Perhaps 15 students per class, team teaching (2 teachers for 30 student classes, teachers stay with students from K-5, 6-8, 9-12, whatever helps students, not teachers.
on August 10,2013 | 01:19PM
wunnee wrote:
niimi and pcman are correct. The highest paid teachers are "teachers" that don't teach--- Resource teachers, coordinators, curriculum coaches, registrars, etc. etc. Some of these folks have not been in the classroom for at least a decade. Yet, they are counted as teachers and are paid as teachers, which is basically a form of identity theft. Only when the real teachers purify their HSTA union, can positive change happen. By the way, that $1500 and $3000 teaching bonuses also went to the "teachers" that don't teach. With Race to the Top, some of the "teachers" that don't teach got a total of 37% more pay than the real teachers, without being in the classroom.
on August 10,2013 | 09:30PM
Oahusurfer82 wrote:
Born and raised in Hawaii, educated both in Hawaii and on the mainland (Harvard graduate school), I can say that there is one comfort in all this. That is: learning deficiencies are not necessarily genetic. I've lived around Native Hawaiians all my life. While as a group they collectively underperform relative to other races (i.e., whites and East Asians), some reach the highest levels of academia and the business world. The Waianae coast's education problems clearly signal to me that the education gap is CULTURAL That is, their culture does not value standard education the way others' do. What's more, their culture as a whole remains "oppositional" to Western values, even as they benefit from its resources as everyone does in the Western world. So it's more a matter of "attitude" than of actual practice. There are certainly parallels between Native Hawaiian and African-American culture. However, the advantage to Hawaiians is their close-knit family values, instinct for social harmony, and deep respect for elders and cultural traditions. Hawaiians live right alongside high-performing groups like whites and East Asians. In fact, for the most part they are interbred with them, and most Hawaiians have more "blood" from those other two groups, than genuine Native Hawaiian DNA. Chances are that you will never meet a "pure Hawaiian" in your lifetime--unless you're friends with Henry Kapono (as I am and I'm sure some others reading this are, too). So ethnic and racial group educational outcomes are always down to cultural orientation and collective group choice. As a society, we need to be publicly honest about this. The "PC multicultural approach" is disingenuously bogus, wastes billions in taxpayer money, and only nurtures and ensures the gap.
on August 10,2013 | 11:30AM
sailfish1 wrote:
Have the Hawaii education system always been like this? If so, then why hasn't anyone addressed this problem 40-50 years ago? If student achievement was better in the past, what happened to create this change? Address that change. If it's a cultural thing, do we really want to change that? Talk to the parents and ask them if they want change.
on August 10,2013 | 11:54AM
pcman wrote:
IRT sailfish on parents. Parents are the key to their children's success. I know many people who lived and graduated from Waianae and Nanakuli High Schools. My daughter-in-law was born and raised there, but her parents encouraged her to do well in school and to go the UH where she graduated with a degree in Computer Science. Most of the people I know who were born and raised in Waianae joined the military and got their college degrees through military programs. Their parents all encouraged them to join the military to see the world, learn a trade, and get a college degree. When I was a substitute teacher in the Leeward District, I always related what I was teaching to my military experiences. One of the things I stressed and which most students were surprised to learn, was that the military does not want people without high school diplomas. Those who were interested in military jobs after high school changed their attitudes and became serious about learning.
on August 10,2013 | 12:54PM
holokanaka wrote:
just a fact. Hawaiians was the most literate people in the world under the Kingdom. question: does any one think it is even possible that the "overthrow" and subsequent history of these Islands may have something to do with the low performance of the Hawaiians. only honestly thought out responses allowed.
on August 10,2013 | 01:37PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
A friend once told me the easiest person to fool is yourself.
on August 10,2013 | 03:10PM
holokanaka wrote:
are you saying Hawaiians were not the most literate under the Kingdom? are you saying the overthrow and subsequent history had nothing to do with the Hawaiians performance? are you a big mouth p.u.n.k?
on August 10,2013 | 09:04PM
pcman wrote:
IRT Grimbold on screwed. This is an area where DOE should push for "military to teacher" recruiting. See my suggestions below for incentive pay for the Waianae coast. All military personnel must know how to instruct and train to get promoted. It is part of on-the-job-training they must conduct. If the DOE central produced standard lesson plans, most military retirees can hit the ground running. The main thing is they can keep the students interested and motivated. As a substitute teacher for a year after I retired fro the military, I could easily teach from a lesson plan, give a short quiz at the end of the period and have the students correct the quiz and I could give a grade to each student for the period. DOE, principals and teachers need to be flexible to allow subs to carry the ball and run with it.
on August 10,2013 | 01:46PM
Nesmith wrote:
The most needy receive the least support.
on August 10,2013 | 10:25PM
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