In my six months on the job as the state’s school superintendent, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the diverse school communities that make the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) special. It has been humbling and extremely exciting.
There is incredible work being done with regard to the department’s Strategic Plan and meeting its targets. The approach I’ve introduced in advancing the goals of our plan is centered around three key areas: School design, student voice, and teacher collaboration.
One of our greatest challenges as a large state agency is the perception that we’re a bureaucracy that is slow to change, focused on monitoring and compliance, and thus by definition anti-innovation. As an arm of government, we have fiduciary and statutory responsibilities, which are reflected in our legislative request.
Yet, any innovation found in the private and charter sectors are also found in the public sector. In fact, public education has been and continues to be at the forefront of teaching and learning innovation. The difference? Scale. Public education systems are tasked with educating all children, not just the children who choose our school or who pay tuition or who are the recipients of a scholarship. We do not turn away children when our seats are full. Our mission has been universal access to quality education — what we see as a fundamental right.
Whether it is the high school student that I met who immigrated to this country, focused on mastering the English language and now is graduating with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in the same year, or the student with no muscle function but with full intellectual capacity that uses assistive technology to communicate, or the first-generation college student aspiring to pursue a profession in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), HIDOE welcomes the challenge of designing learning approaches to meet these needs and those of each of our keiki.
At all levels in our system, we are actively pushing our thinking of what it means to be a learning organization and how we support school design concepts to ensure success for all students. This is an exciting time to watch how HIDOE is positioning itself as an education innovator.
There are a variety of school design models currently being implemented throughout our system. Some of these models are made possible with the help of community and business partners who provide financial resources and supports.
We know that innovation requires us to invest in ideas. That is why the Department has dedicated state general funds to support these efforts through School Design Innovation Grant opportunities.
Our Innovation Fund Grants will provide selected public schools and public charter schools with awards between $10,000 and $250,000 over an initial two-year period to pilot highly innovative programs. Nearly 70 applications were received and are currently undergoing a review process.
In establishing the purposeful design of schools, my leadership team is intently examining ways to improve upon the delivery of our services that are aligned with effective learning practices. And, our legislative efforts are focused in areas such as teacher recruitment, sustainability, technology and infrastructure expansion.
We recently established a team to lead Computer Science learning opportunities for every K-12 student by 2022. The statewide effort involves key stakeholders, and a partnership with the University of Hawaii to offer grant-funded professional development, and identify stepping stones to pave the path for post-secondary college and career opportunities in the Computer Science fields.
Hawaii should feel proud of the work being done and the partnerships taking place to improve upon our core mission of quality teaching and learning.