Tammi Oyadomari-Chun is surrounded by planning documents and charts with data and a calendar of meetings that has taken her around the state finalizing the Department of Education strategic plan.
She’s never too far from kids, though, whether it’s her own son in public school, or the vista of kids around St. Andrew’s Priory, outside her window.
“At the end of summer they have bounce houses, and it’s super fun to watch them all play,” she said with a smile.
Oyadomari-Chun is assistant superintendent for the Office of Strategy, Innovation and Performance, which has put her in the thick of contentious concerns. Her preparation for that was as a policy adviser to then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie, dealing with union talks, preschool, higher education and other issues.
She has a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Southern California and a master’s in public policy from Harvard University.
Oyadomari-Chun is turning her attention to the plan for federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act, due in April.
Meanwhile, a task force under Gov. David Ige has developed a separate “blueprint” laying out his long-term educational vision. The DOE did work to make its plan responsive to some of the critique from Ige and others, she said, with lots of meetings to create “connectivity” between the documents.
“We already planned a pretty extensive process of outreach and collaboration to develop the plan,” she said. “And we did it because of all the feedback we had received previously about the department not listening enough.
“What was important was making sure that things would be clear to the community and not confused about the direction that we were headed.”
Question: How has the department changed direction since you started?
Answer: I think there have been changes. I think that when I got here in June of 2015, we were coming off of the school year where we finished (the federal reform grant program) Race to the Top.
We had also come off the year where the Education Institute of Hawaii had been formed. They had done some principal surveys saying that things were too top-down.
Q: What was your sense of what the principals were saying?
A: There had been some similar efforts of principals organizing, under Superintendent Paul LeMahieu. I remember they had a principals’ meeting about what they wanted instead of what the direction of the department was at that time. So I don’t think it’s the first time we’ve heard principals come together to say that they had a different direction than the superintendent’s direction at the time.
But what I think I heard loud and clear when I got here was they felt like they needed to have their voice heard. I value that a lot, and I think superintendent (Kathryn Matayoshi) did, too.
One of the things I had worked on, prior to coming to the department, was I had worked with the joint committee on teacher evaluations. So, it’s the joint committee of the HSTA (Hawaii State Teachers Association) and the Department of Education.
Q: How did you transfer that experience here?
A: So, the lesson I learned in facilitating the joint committee was just how much everyone’s different perspective on what was happening could really be incorporated into making something better, that you could agree on.
Q: So you found that to be parallel to going out and learning what people wanted for the strategic plan?
A: I guess it was parallel to me talking with principals about how to best inform policy directions and implementation.
One of the first things I worked on when I first joined was school climate policy. … The principals had a lot of concern about how it would be implemented and the impact on their schools.
Everyone had certain assumptions about what they were trying to promote and what they were trying to protect. … It took a while for everybody to get to the point of sharing what the issue was for them, and then to try to find some common ground and how to move forward on what the policy should say.
We saw this a lot in the strategic plan process. A good example was when we talked about “a rigorous, well-rounded education,” what we meant was we wanted students to have quality education in every subject, not just reading and math. We thought it was going to be motherhood and apple pie, and well celebrated, that we were making this statement.
We were in Kauai, and some of the teachers were disagreeing with the statement and really upset. And we were surprised.
When we sat down and talked to them about it, they said, “When we read this, you are now going to test every subject.”… And we said, “That’s not what we meant, at all.”
Q: So, they felt that at least in the past some subjects were not under the careful watch of policy?
A: Yes, I guess for them, that was their perspective. And when they read it, rather than being supportive of promoting all subjects, they thought it would be a set of mandates, like testing. So we reworded it. …
Q: What feedback have you gotten since you went public with the plan?
A: I’ve heard some really positive comments. People feel that it’s clear and focused enough to provide common direction, but they also think it’s flexible enough to do what they need at the school. …
Q: Any lingering misgivings about it?
A: A couple major concerns. One is around implementation. Some have gotten some comments that this plan is all great, but how are we going to carry it through? What will it mean at my school? … And I think that’s fair.
Because what matters is implementation. … So whether or not a student has access to art and project-based learning and counseling depends on what the school implements.
I have one complex area superintendent that said, “Are we still talking about the plan? Like, will we get to doing the plan? Can we do the plan?”
Q: So, people want to get going?
A: And practically speaking, schools are preparing a financial plan and academic plans for next school year. The collective bargaining agreement, the first teacher transfer period is in February. … Principals, by the end of this month, have to list their list of positions in their school for next year, and what they’re going to be recruiting for.
So some schools have said, “I might decide I want an additional music teacher next year, under “well-rounded education.” And if they want to do that, they have to put it in their plan. So for them it’s very urgent to make these choices.…
I think the other concern we’ve heard is about the achievement gap, and does the plan do enough to pay attention to equity. … It impacts schools, but it’s also specific to our students who receive special education services, or our English learners. Those are the groups for which advocates have been most concerned.
Q: They thought the plan didn’t address special needs?
A: I think the plan is pretty explicit about how to address some of high-needs students … that we need to have training for more inclusive practices. …
We also committed to providing the data for how each of the groups of students are performing. … But I think people were just concerned because they felt like their students’ needs haven’t been adequately met. …
Q: The plan is an outline, right? And you’ll find out how it works as you go.
A: Right. But at the end of the day, it will provide guidance, but what matters for students is what happens in classrooms … so that’s where the rubber meets the road.