“Race to the Top was very prescriptive. It was tremendously important change, but now we have to ask ourselves,
‘How can we change more collaboratively?’”
For Complex Area Superintendents Donna Lum Kagawa (Farrington-Kaiser-Kalani) and Art Souza (Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena), a visit to three school districts in North America recently validated the importance of and commitment to responsive state and Complex support as part of system transformation, with a focus on leadership and ownership.
Souza and Kagawa were part of a contingent of 27 school and community leaders that visited the Los Angeles Unified School District, Clark County in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Edmonton School District in Alberta, Canada.
The trip inspired them to reflect upon the value of leadership capacity, both said.
“It was especially rewarding for us because so much of what we’ve done, has been about leadership development,” says Souza. “Leadership development is the key. It’s not through fancy curriculum, or the next best grant. We must put our chips on leadership – how we change schools is how we lead schools differently.”
Strong, effective educators, Kagawa says, are the ones who must lead the change. It’s not just about building capacity, she said; it’s critical to have the right match to advance the complex components of transformation.
A key commonality among the three districts visited, according to Souza and Kagawa, was principal empowerment. Their missions and structures embrace transparency and flexibility, and they use evidence-based accountability to advance student results. Resources flow to leaders and stakeholders closest to students.
Both Souza and Kagawa are respected educational leaders, and they saw the trip as a learning opportunity. The trip showed them small parts of larger systems, although each school district was similar in size to Hawaii. In Los Angeles, they saw a Charter School framework. In Clark County, Nevada, they heard about lessons learned from “disruptive innovation,” in which voices of all stakeholders are included and valued — principals, teachers, support staff, students and community partners.
In Edmonton, they engaged in presentations and conversations about shared governance. Kagawa said that a key feature of shared governance is ownership — all employees are valued, and are grounded by a core belief in collaborative practice. Central services focus on supporting teaching and learning in the schools.
“It was a very strong sense of ownership and purpose,” says Kagawa. “It really drove their actions. And it was powerful to see how they cultivated a culture where autonomy and mutual responsibility was promoted. Everyone understood the expectation of school improvement efforts with a relentless focus on student achievement. Coupled with this was the commensurate allocation of resources and intensive support that was galvanized by the central office to move everything systemically.”
In all, the trip validated how far Hawaii has progressed, and the work that still lies ahead for everyone who has a vested interest in public education in the Islands, they said.
“The State of Hawaii has taken ambitious, audacious, cutting-edge reform efforts; and they came with a lot of contention,” Souza said. “It was risk taking, innovative – stuff we haven’t attempted to do as a state, but now we are at a fork in the road.”
He added, “Race to the Top was very prescriptive. It was tremendously important change, but now we have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we change more collaboratively?’”
According to Souza, we need to take stock of who we are as a Department, and consider where we go from here. The last five years was focused on creating a structure — “Do we have the wherewithal to build upon it?” he asked.
“This is not about tearing down structures,” he said. “Rather, it’s about improving what we have. We have many positive things in place.”
Souza cautioned that oftentimes people can be barriers to the change. The focus now should be on cultivating leaders throughout the Department — school, Complex, and state level — and embracing our ownership of Hawaii’s public education.
Perhaps Kagawa put it best. “Each of us has an imperative to improve education on behalf of our kids,” she said. “It starts with me, and that connects to everything else. The mission of the Complex and my moral obligation as a leader is to support the quality teaching and learning that all our students deserve.”