Next week, when the first bells ring in schools across our islands, the movement to improve education in Hawaii will shift to a higher gear.
This school year we are raising Hawaii’s children to the top of our list of priorities. As the school year progresses, you will learn of many examples of excellence in leadership, in teaching, in community involvement and in student achievement. Too often, we overlook the positive things happening in our public schools right now.
But as we celebrate successes, we must also freely admit and openly address the difficult challenges that have frustrated us for too long — finger pointing, antiquated systems, norms that go unchallenged, low expectations and conflicts over the needs of the adults that distract us from the needs of children.
Our public schools are improving, but we all know we can and need to do much better.
It is time for the adults of Hawaii to strive high for our students and our future. And that responsibility begins with the three of us. For the first time in many years, Hawaii’s educational leadership is united in purpose and plan — governor, Board of Education and superintendent. We invite you to hold us accountable for the long journey ahead. For this year, look for the following:
» We will raise graduation standards. This means students in the class of 2018 and later will have tougher requirements to strive for in order to earn their high school diploma. We are committed to give our K-12 students, teachers and principals the support and leadership needed to meet these higher standards. A higher bar is harder to reach, but reaching it means our graduates will have the skills they need to succeed in careers and college, both locally and globally.
» We will fix our school buildings. This year, we will attack the substantial backlog of maintenance and repair of our school facilities. Every student needs an environment conducive to learning.
» We will make our schools safe for our children so they can concentrate on learning. A primary emphasis this year will be addressing the issue of bullying in all forms, and we will begin piloting what will become a statewide program.
» We will implement unique strategies and partnerships in our Zones of School Innovation, which are aimed at swiftly improving schools in Ka’u, Keaau and Pahoa on Hawaii Island and in the Nanakuli and Waianae complexes on Oahu’s Leeward Coast.
» We will cultivate effective teaching through mentoring programs, reduced administrative burdens and implementation of an effective teacher evaluation system. We know for a fact great teachers are the key to great students.
We also need something from you — every parent asking how the day went; every student offering help to a classmate in need; every teacher staying up late to grade papers; every principal taking a fresh look at the challenge before their schools; every contractor repairing a school building; every coach, crossing guard, food service worker, volunteer, custodian, grandparent, commentator, business leader, and every taxpayer concerned about Hawaii’s future can contribute to the success of this commitment.
We can take pride in our schools and put our hearts and souls into our kids. Empty criticism does nothing to help our schools and our children. Let’s challenge ourselves to approach this year united by enthusiasm, encouragement and constructive action.
There is one more week to prepare. Let’s all have a great school year.