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New ‘think tank’ aims to empower educators in Hawaii’s public schools

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The retired public school principals behind a scathing survey of school leaders that found widespread dysfunction at Hawaii public schools have formed the Education Institute of Hawaii, which they’re calling a think tank dedicated to exploring ways to empower principals, teachers and parents to better serve students. 

The organization plans to conduct independent research and sponsor focus groups and public forums to help address some of the issues revealed in the anonymous survey released by veteran principals Darrel Galera and John Sosa, who both retired in December. 

The survey, published in May, found an overwhelming majority of public school principals say they lack the support and autonomy to act in the best interests of their schools. A majority of the 160 principals who responded also said they hesitate to speak out for fear of retaliation.

 “The overarching goal of the Education Institute will be improving the quality of public education in Hawaii so that more children thrive and more professionals reach their full potential as educators,” said Galera, who is serving as executive director of the new institute. “The Department of Education’s centralized bureaucracy has become dysfunctional, applying a one-size-fits-all, top-down management of schools.” 

The think tank’s board of directors is stacked with education advocates and former public school leaders.

As one of its first projects, the organization is sending a group of 27 delegates — including Board of Education members and current and former DOE principals and administrators — to visit school systems in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Edmonton, Canada. 

“No individual in the current bureaucratic system wants bad outcomes for the children, but the system itself ends up shortchanging the students and frustrating the professionals,” said University of Hawaii law professor and public education advocate Randy Roth, who serves as president and board chairman of the institute. “No other state has a governance structure that is similar to Hawaii’s. Only in Hawaii does the state office wield so much power over financial and instructional decisions.” 

Hawaii is the only single, statewide school system in the nation and ranks as the ninth-largest public school district, with more than 180,000 students.

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