Last month about 11,000 of our students began a new chapter in their lives, graduating from their respective public schools. I was proud to be a part of a number of commencement ceremonies where students spoke to their classmates about how far they’ve come and how the possibilities before them are limitless.
Along with family members who waited to greet them were many teachers, counselors, and school leaders who helped them turn that last page of their high school career. And in that moment, when they moved their tassels and became graduates, the future of our state got a little brighter. They will face many challenges ahead; however, the lessons they’ve learned as public school students have given them the tools to overcome any obstacle and reach their goals.
Leading our public education system has come with momentous challenges and incredible rewards. Change definitely has been the one constant.
I remain in awe of the work by our teachers and school leaders who have come up with strategies to improve the lives and learning of our public school students. Educational experts have taken notice of the hard work that has occurred here. This year, our department was named the top state for innovative education improvement efforts, receiving the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation from the Education Commission of the States.
In looking back on our progress, it’s been an amazing journey! (Pictured: Supt. Kathryn Matayoshi with Koryne Yoon of the Class of 2017 before commencement ceremonies begin at McKinley High School.)
Eight years ago, I joined Supt. Patricia Hamamoto as her deputy. She was focused on increasing the rigor and setting high expectations for children, knowing that we needed to set the bar high for our students to succeed in the 21st century.
In place was the heavy-handed No Child Left Behind law that defined “school failure” as anything less than 100 percent proficiency in English and math. The state was experiencing a rough recession, which included the bruising Furlough Fridays in addition to other economic fallout.
Still, we set out to strive high and never looked back. In 2010, I accepted the role of Superintendent to continue Hamamoto’s commitment to transform public education. The $75 million Race to the Top (RTTT) grant was a catalyst in our reform efforts, along with an appointed Board of Education that sought systems alignment under the clear direction of a first-ever joint Strategic Plan. Changes implemented during RTTT are shining through in our results.
All of our students are moving up — high needs and non-high needs. There is greater rigor, new cross disciplinary approaches to synthesize learning, integration strategies, data review teams —everyone working together to move the needle.
The collective change has been exhausting. Beyond the reforms, there are still the basics of caring about what we do and keeping the passion for our service burning bright.
One of my mottos has been that the DOE is not the “Department of Everything” — we must continue to build partnerships to provide the wraparound services that support all children and families to grow healthy, safe, nurturing communities. We need partners to help boost professional development opportunities to ensure our teachers and staff are learning from each other and developmental experts. Unless we are developing ourselves as professionals, we are not serving our students to the best of our abilities.
We’ve proven that our Strategic Plan never sits on a shelf but instead is always a work in progress. And the work never ends. Plan, Do, Check, Act — continuous improvement at all levels.
If we are to truly be student centered, we must recognize that each graduating class is different, and there is change. We must continue to change with the needs of our students by continuing to learn alongside them.
It has been an honor to be a learner and a leader with you. Thank you for all that you do in serving Hawai‘i’s keiki.
Like the graduates of 2017, I look forward to the next chapter.