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Hawaii News

Team prepares to bid for $75M grant

How do you prepare for a presentation that could make or break Hawaii’s chances of securing $75 million for school reforms?

Stage a lot of dress rehearsals, say Department of Education officials.

A five-member team from the islands will be in Washington, D.C., tomorrow for a 30-minute presentation and hourlong question-and-answer session in front of education experts to make their case for why Hawaii should get federal Race to the Top grant money.


» Hawaii is seeking $75 million in federal grant money.
» The state is one of 19 finalists; 10 to 12 states are expected to secure grants.
» Hawaii reform efforts include improving struggling schools and tracking student progress more effectively.
» A five-member Hawaii panel will make a presentation tomorrow in Washington, D.C.
» Winners will be announced in September.

All this week, the team members have been going through their presentation, holding mock interview sessions, tweaking elements and ironing out details, like whether presenters will sit or stand. (They will sit.)

Hawaii is among 19 finalists competing for the federal education reform grants designed to improve student achievement, turn around low-performing schools and better prepare America’s students for work and college.

The U.S. Department of Education will announce in September which states will get grants, and 10 to 12 states are expected to be winners.

Only Tennessee and Delaware got money in the first round of Race to the Top grants, announced in March.

Hawaii, which was still grappling at the time with teacher furloughs, was not a finalist in that round, placing 22nd of 40 states and the District of Columbia.

On Hawaii’s presentation team are interim schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi and acting Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe. The team also includes a representative from Kamehameha Schools, which has been working closely with the Department of Education to improve struggling schools on the Leeward Coast; the Hawaii State Teachers Association; and the Hawaii P-20 Partnerships for Education.

Each state will have the same amount of time for the presentation and will be asked questions from a five-member panel.

The presentations will be held tomorrow and Wednesday at a Washington, D.C., hotel, and the expert panel will use what they have culled from the interviews to rescore each state’s grant application.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the in-person presentations will be about determining "states’ capacity to deliver against their plan."

Hawaii has one of the early time slots on the first day of presentations.

Robert Campbell, DOE executive assistant for school reform, said Hawaii team members have run through their presentation twice before a mock panel and gone through parts of the presentation countless times.

The mock panel also simulated the question-and-answer session.

The team will hold one more mock interview session today in Washington.

Campbell, who is an alternate for the team, said the presentation will center on a key idea: Hawaii has a single, statewide school district that gives it an edge in bringing together diverse players and making more comprehensive, permanent reforms in schools statewide.

Having a single district has given educators, nonprofits, unions and others experience "collaborating and working together … in support of student achievement," he said.

Campbell added that he believes Hawaii has a strong application and a good chance of securing the Race to the Top funds.

Tammi Chun, executive director of the P-20 initiative, said driving home the power of Hawaii’s single school district is vital.

"This reform is going to touch every classroom and every student in the entire state," she said, adding that the presenters also will highlight how the state has a "broad and deep partnership" for proposed reforms, some of which are already under way.

Chun said being on the panel is a "very big responsibility."

"But I think we have a good plan, and we’ve practiced for the presentation," she said. "I’m really excited. What Race to the Top put in front of us was an opportunity to look at all of it (the schools system) at once and do a major transformation."

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