Importance of Reforming Hawaii's Public Schools-Address on Education to the State Legislature

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President Bunda, Speaker Say, members of the Legislature, Lieutenant Governor Aiona, Congressman Abercrombie, distinguished guests from our business, labor, military and education communities, fellow citizens of Hawaii, good morning.

My name is Pat Hamamoto and I am a teacher, a principal, and an educator. I believe teaching is one of our greatest callings, and I spent 12 happy and productive years teaching at Ilima Intermediate, Highlands Intermediate and Pearl City High School.


As a classroom teacher, I was often frustrated with the DOE bureaucracy. My seventh graders at Ilima struggled with math. I wanted to make math “real” by relating it to something they cared about, namely, money. So I set up a little in-class economics lesson. When my students turned in work that was acceptable, they got tokens they could use to buy classroom supplies like pencils, rulers and notebooks. I’ll tell you — the lesson worked. The students saw the connection between math and money and buying things, and they did enough good work to empty out my supply closet. Now technically, I was supposed to just give out those supplies, no strings attached. So before I embarked on this program, I asked my principal for permission. He said, “Don’t tell me! If I don’t know, I can’t tell you no. Just do it.” And so I learned to work around the system. But teachers shouldn’t have to work around a system; the system should work for them.

As principal of McKinley High School, I thought things would get easier within the system. When we were renovating McKinley’s historic administration building, the whole campus was dug up to put in new wiring. Since the trenches were dug anyway, I thought it would be a perfect time to put in conduit pipes to wire our campus for computer technology. I was told no. The reason? It wasn’t on the blueprints. Finally, in frustration, I called the head of the Department of Accounting & General Services, and asked for help. And he helped. McKinley’s students now have a school fully wired for fiber optics. But principals shouldn’t have to work around a system or use personal connections; the system should work for them.

As Superintendent of Schools, I recognize that a lot of people consider me, and the people who work with me in the DOE offices nearby, to be symbolic of the problem and unwilling to change. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been changing this bureaucracy since the day I was named Superintendent two years ago. Before I talk about how we have changed and will continue to change, let me talk for a moment about something that hasn’t changed — our principals, teachers and students who represent the best of what we are.

Our teachers work long hours, and pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets. Our principals are dedicated to “finding a way around the system” to make their schools rich learning environments. Our students are excellent scholars, future scientists, inventors and CEOs, future legislators and perhaps a governor or two. They have come from across the state to be here this morning, to remind us of why we are here, and why public education deserves every ounce of attention and support we can give it. Principals, teachers, and students of Hawaii’s public school system, will you please rise and receive the acknowledgment you deserve!

Despite the many achievements of our public education system, I come before you today to report that Hawaii’s public education is simply not working as it should. It is, in fact, obsolete. And in my view, this is the single biggest problem we face as a state. Why? Because we are not properly preparing Hawaii’s citizens of the future, our workforce of the future, our business and civic leaders of the future.

Too many of our teenagers fail basic eighth grade English and math tests. They cannot qualify for journeyman apprenticeships in the building trades. They have little hope of decent-paying jobs that will allow them to raise and care for their families. We are failing them, the next generation. And that is not acceptable. I am not here to defend the status quo. I am here to tell you we must all work together, to transform public education in these Islands we call home.

I feel very fortunate to be standing here today because I have never seen so much focus on public education in the news media, on the fifth floor of this building and in these legislative chambers. That attention is an opportunity for all of us. It shows that the leaders in this state want the best possible education for the boys and girls of these islands. It shouts loud and clear that the opportunity for change is upon us, and we must embrace it!

In everything we do from this day forward as we go about the business of “reinventing” our education system, we need to focus not on school boards or superintendents or labor unions, not on Republicans or Democrats, but on the 184,000 students in our charge. The question isn’t who is right, but what is right. I ask you to listen this morning with open minds and open hearts, so that collectively we can make informed decisions on what is best for our children.

Yes, the system of education governance is important. But it is a political decision, to be made by you. So I won’t spend any of my time debating that issue. I will tell you that I believe education reform in Hawaii is only going to happen at the most basic level — at the school and in the classroom. I am opposed to additional Boards of Education that add more layers of bureaucracy between our state school board and the schools. More school boards will not improve student achievement. I will forever champion the most direct and unfettered route from that state governing board to that individual school and ultimately the child in the classroom.

I couldn’t agree more with Consultant William Ouchi’s conclusion from his book, “Making Schools Work,” page 17, which reads “If you focus only on decentralization, you’ll get a decentralized district, but with low student achievement.” That is, obviously, not our goal!

Differences over school board structure have received a lot of media and community attention, but it’s encouraging to me that there is consensus on so many issues that will make more of a difference in the classroom

Just look at areas where we already seem to be on the same page:

One: Empowering principals and school communities by providing more lump-sum funding directly to the schools and giving them the authority and the flexibility to decide how school funds are spent.

Two: Adopting the “weighted student formula” funding plan. Hawaii is known for equity in public education. Our statewide funding system has provided that. Keiki in the poorest communities are guaranteed the same level of resources as those in wealthy neighborhoods. That’s not true in other states, where local property taxes finance education. Hawaii should be proud of having equalized resources at the school level. But not all students are created equal. Some have physical or psychological needs that require special education. Others speak no English, come from broken families or live with foster parents, and go home to drugs and drug users. The “Weighted Student Formula” plan allocates money based on the unique needs of each student. That funding follows that student wherever he or she goes to school, and equalizes opportunity at the student level. I applaud everyone, from the Board, the Legislature, and the governor’s CARE group, for their general agreement to adopt this plan. It is the right thing to do, and I hope we do it this year!

Three: Giving principals more training in finance and administration so that they can, in fact, become true CEO-educators on their own campuses. The Board of Education has now made this a priority for DOE implementation.

Four: Providing parents a choice to send their children to any public school that has room for them. Along with that choice comes the responsibility to get your child to and from school safely. Therefore, I believe in the long run, most parents will go to the quality schools with quality programs in their neighborhoods precisely because they are in their neighborhoods, easy to get to, and part of the fabric of their community. A logical extension of that belief is that parents will do what they can to make their own neighborhood schools better.

The new Board of Education, its leadership and members who sit behind me on this dais, are to be commended for the many hours of unselfish service they give to Hawaii’s children. They have indicated by their words and their actions that they are committed to reinventing Hawaii’s Public Education System. This is an endeavor that must be undertaken jointly by the Board, which sets policy, and by the Superintendent and her team, who implement that policy. I am invigorated by the leadership and courage I have seen coming from this Board, and I look forward to working together in this challenging and noble pursuit.

So, the Board and the Department are calling for help as we reinvent our schools.

First: We must empower schools and principals in the way I spoke of earlier, and accountability must go with the power. That means requiring principals and teachers to make sure that students meet standards. For example, by the end of Grade 3, every student must read.

Second: Parents must know how their child is doing. We will give parents and children user-friendly feedback — report cards that parents and students can understand easily. Parents are responsible to get their kids to school ready to learn, and students need to be responsible for their own learning.

Third: We will overhaul SCBM — School/Community-Based Management. In its current form, it simply doesn’t work the way the framers of this policy had originally intended and that was to improve student achievement. Therefore, as we empower individual schools, we must arm School-Community Councils with shared decision-making power, and give them meaningful responsibilities over spending, and through weighted student funding, insure student achievement. This will mean training participants to make these important choices and then trusting them to do the right thing. A nameless worker in an office in Honolulu should not be telling a principal in Honokaa how to best spend his or her school’s budget. Therefore, I envision a Board of Directors for each school, much like the models we see in the business world, in churches, or at our private schools. This Board would be made up of school and community members, elected by the parents, staff, teachers, principals, and even students in the older grades. They would have two main responsibilities: develop their academic plan for success which will get the educational results they desire for their children and decide how best to spend their own school’s budgets! That, my friends, is local school governance at the most basic and important level — every school, with the parents, principals, teachers, staff and students making their own decisions!

Fourth: We expect quality, and we need to pay for performance. Principals should be put on performance contracts so we can reward the top performers with incentives, pay raises, time off, paid training or sabbaticals, and move non-performers to another line of work. Our professionals need to know that hard work and success pay off. We must do this while respecting collective bargaining and in cooperation with our partners in organized labor.

Fifth: As we empower principals, we need to have them on the job for 12 months and pay them for it. CEOs in private business don’t work 10-month years. Every sector of our society operates on a year-round basis. If business, government, tourism, transportation, and utilities do it, then principals, as CEOs of their schools, need to be on the job year round. Teachers should be treated similarly and have a financial incentive for professional development. Teachers should be put on 11-month contracts — 10 months of teaching, plus an additional month for 20 days of paid training.

Sixth: In order to make these ideas work, we need a common public school calendar. Our current calendar, which has long summer breaks, reflects a different age when parents needed their children free to harvest the crops and support the family. But we’re in the technology and information age now. A common year-round school calendar would include more frequent breaks and vacation time for families and much-needed opportunities to train teachers so that they may serve your children better. And, it’s more efficient.

Seventh and most important: If we are to truly reinvent our system and make deep structural changes, it is time to unshackle the DOE from other state departments that have so much control over the quality of life in our schools in the following ways:

In budgeting: Principals can never be sure how much appropriated money will be released for their use and when it comes, it comes too late. It’s almost impossible to plan for educational excellence that way. We envision a law that requires that the Department of Budget and Finance release at least 80 percent of a fiscal year’s appropriation to the schools, once that law is passed and signed by the governor, and early enough for school councils to have the time to plan.

In the area of hiring: If the State Department of Human Resources Development doesn’t have a specific job description in its civil service system that meets our needs, we cannot hire for that job, even if we have identified the need and have the money to do so. That makes no sense whatsoever, and it’s wrong. We want the authority and resources to set up our own employment system to meet the unique needs of education. The State Judiciary can do it now. Why not the Department of Education?

With regard to construction and repairs: The current process for school construction, repair and maintenance is obsolete — just like the toilets, windows and doors in so many public schools. The system, if you call something that dysfunctional a “system,” makes our kids wait too long for decent basic facilities. We are at the mercy of the Department of Accounting & General Services and Budget & Finance for capital improvement projects and to repair bathrooms. That’s not right. Give us both the money and the authority to do the capital projects, and the repair and maintenance we know we need for better, safer and more efficient campuses.

Finally, a word about centralized services: The DOE spends 1.7 billion tax dollars each year and we need to be managed. If teachers are to be free to teach, and principals free to lead that teaching, a lot of support work has to be done by somebody — bus routes, custodial service, school lunch programs, textbook purchases, compliance with the law and union contracts. Services like this do lend themselves to the efficiency of centralization. Schools will always need a central administration to take care of these necessities, or else the educators on campus will have to take time away to do it. Our pledge to you is that we will continue to aggressively look for ways of managing our needs cost-effectively and responsibly.

The CARE committee’s report rightly stated: “So long as responsibility is diffused, no one can be held accountable.” That’s true. Hold me accountable and expect results.

But first, you must give me the tools and the space to do the job. And you must give the Board the authority it needs to do its job as well. While we need the help of the Legislature and Gov. Lingle and her Administration to empower the schools so they can prepare our children for success, we also need to be able to do the job without interference or being told what our job is and how to do our job. Don’t tie our hands!

Now let’s talk about what these changes I’ve proposed could mean for the future. I see greater involvement in our public school system by every sector of our economy. Not every child is suited for or wants to attend college. We could benefit greatly from smaller schools within schools dedicated to teaching our young people trades and professions they can pursue after graduation. I invite our partners in organized labor unions, with their fine apprenticeship programs, to expand their role in preparing our youth at the high school level. I invite our business and professional communities to allow us to place more students in their businesses, to be “learning labs” for the future.

The private school system in the state can help us, too. Our gifted and talented teachers, the finest we have, would love to have the opportunity to exchange ideas with some of your finest minds. I know there are other partnerships toward which we could work.

We are already partnering in several ways with one of the most valuable and influential educational organizations in our state: The Kamehameha Schools. Our State Department of Education is proud of our own Hawaiian Language Immersion Program — the Kula Kaiapuni, along with the Aha Punana Leo and the many Hawaiian Immersion Charter schools. These schools are known around the world as the model for indigenous education. A partnership between Kamehameha Schools, Aha Punana Leo and the DOE in sustaining this program seems a natural extension to improve this important and unique aspect of life in Hawaii.

And think for a moment. In every one of the instances I just mentioned, when you partner with the Department of Education, you free up resources and funding that can go to those who are truly the most needy in our system which allows for the flexibility for us to do our job. I ask you as you leave here to think about how you can support your neighborhood public school.

I said at the beginning of my remarks that public education is the concern of all of us; that one person cannot find all the solutions to all our problems. Therefore I ask every one of you here today, and every one of you listening from your homes or your places of work, to link arms with us, to help us along the road of change to our destiny of a free, first-class public education for every child of Hawaii. I am announcing today that on March 27, 2004, less than two months from now, the Board of Education and the Superintendent will convene the first-ever statewide Education Summit to be held here in Honolulu. It will consist of representatives from every walk of life, from business and labor, from public and private sectors, from the early education/pre-school community, the University System and from our distinguished private schools. I invite representatives from the Hawaiian Community to join us in this effort. I invite teachers, parents, principals, students, graduates, members of our military community, whose children attend our public schools. We will come together, we will come with our own ideas and we will come prepared to listen to others’ ideas. And we — we will collectively decide what we need to do to reinvent our public school system.

Let me conclude by saying the initiatives I’ve proposed here, and the ones that will come out of the Education Summit in March, will require new thinking, courage, a willingness to take risk, and it will require change in the entire government system, not just the Department of Education. I challenge you to stand with me, to take the risk, to embrace the change that is coming our way, and above all, to live up to our obligation to the young people of our islands. We CAN do it … and ”’we will!”’

Thank you and aloha.

”’Pat Hamamoto is the superintendent of Hawaii’s state Department of Education.”’