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  • First-Ever Head of Hawaiian Education Foresees ‘Revolutionary’ Changes

    · By Jessica Terrell

    Dawn Kaui Sang had no idea what she was getting herself into the first time she stood in front of a class of kindergarten students and started speaking to them in Hawaiian.

    Sang had gone back to college at the age of 24 determined to work in one of the state’s fledgling Hawaiian language immersion programs after watching her nephews enter a lottery for admission. If Hawaiian immersion was available to some, she thought, it should be available to all.

    After graduating from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, her own Hawaiian was still rough around the edges. The elementary school she was assigned to in her late 20s had little prepared curriculum for her to work with. Worst of all, Sang quickly realized that she didn’t really understand what Hawaiian immersion was about.

    “I had assumed that Hawaiian language immersion education was just mainstream education in Hawaiian,” Sang said. “That’s not what it was at all.”

    Instead, she said, it’s about helping students to think about classroom content in a way that reflects Hawaiian culture.

    Dawn Kaui Sang is the first director of the Office of Hawaiian Education.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Not only do many Hawaiian words have multiple meanings, but there are cultural values embedded in the language, Sang said. The work of Hawaiian immersion, then, is to develop the right framework of language through which to view subject matter from a different perspective.

    Transforming her understanding of Hawaiian language immersion — one of several ways the Department of Education meets a

  • Hawaii’s Charter Schools Must Adhere to Federal Law on Prayers

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    Jessica Terrell’s recent Civil Beat report on whether school prayer is crossing a line at some Hawaii charter schools begs serious questions that the Hawaii Charter Schools Commission now should answer — if not to effectively meet its oversight responsibilities, then to prepare for issues that soon may be coming to it from the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. Chief among them:

    Why are some of these taxpayer-funded schools being allowed to routinely feature prayers specific to individual faiths as part of the school day, in what would appear to be a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution?
    Why are some school employees and parents who are voicing concerns over the practices being ignored by school leadership or possibly retaliated against?
    Is instruction around Hawaiian culture and language being used as a cloak to introduce specifically Christian prayer and teachings into certain schools?

    Students during morning opening protocol at the Ka ‘Umeke Ka’eo charter school in Hilo.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    These questions are coming to the fore due to a Civil Rights Commission complaint filed by Kawaikini Charter School Business Manager Stuart Rosenthal, who has been complaining for some time about frequent, compulsory Christian prayers that he said often start the day at Kawaikini.

    The school plans to eliminate Stuart Rosenthal’s position for the coming school year — a move he chalks up to his persistent criticism of its Christ-centered prayers, but the school administrator blames on budget woes.

    “I work for a public school and am a state employee. I should not be forced to

  • Lack of School Nurses in Hawaii Contributes to High Absentee Rates

    · By Jessica Terrell

    Efforts to reduce chronic school absenteeism are shining new light on the prevalence of illnesses like asthma among students and the lack of trained medical professionals stationed in Hawaii schools.

    Hawaii currently lags behind most states when it comes to the availability of school nurses.

    Federal guidelines recommend one trained nurse for every 750 students. At the start of the 2013-14 school year, the Hawaii Department of Education had three nurses on staff for 180,000 students.

    At most schools in the state, everything from scrapes to colds are handled by school health aides, who consult with Department of Health nurses for advice on more serious problems.

    But research shows that students under the supervision of a health aide are three times more likely to get sent home for an ailment than students at a campus with a registered nurse, said Mary Boland, dean of the University of Hawaii’s nursing school.

    Leighton K. Kaonohi (shown here in 2014 at Kahuku High & Intermediate School) examines a student at the school health clinic.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    That’s in part because the health aides often have no medical training beyond first aid and CPR certifications, so students in need of medication like an asthma inhaler often have to be sent home for the day.

    School administrators and healthcare providers are hoping to change that soon, through new partnerships and pilot programs aimed at increasing the number of nurses working with schools, streamlining the process for allowing students to administer their own medication, and providing free

  • Auditor: School Bus Issues Still Need Work

    · By Patti Epler

    The State Auditor has released a follow-up to its 2012 report on the state Department of Education’s transportation woes. That audit slammed the DOE for numerous problems related to how it managed its school bus services and made 20 recommendations for improvement.

    The follow-up, released Thursday, noted that eight of the recommendations have been satisfied but the rest are still in progress in some fashion.

    The 2012 audit followed Civil beat’s investigative series on skyrocketing school bus costs and mismanagement. “Taken for a Ride” reported extensively on the department’s transportation budget, which climbed from $25 million a year to more than $72 million a year in just six years. One significant finding: school bus companies abruptly stopped bidding against each other and the DOE began accepting the bids without question.

    As the Auditor found, school officials acknowledged the rising costs could have been the result of collusion. The Auditor documented lax procurement policies as contributing to the costs but found numerous other problems as well, including no real good way to track routes and how buses were being utilized. Staff overseeing the bus companies were not qualified, the auditor found.

    The follow-up audit reports that the DOE has developed standard operating procedures and is in the process of implementing a computerized route-planning system. Improved procurement practices are in place although the auditor noted the agency still has not created policies to deal with suspected anticompetitive practices.

    School buses operated by Roberts Hawaii

  • In Hawaii, Sex Education Is Confusing — Even for Those in Charge

    · By Jessica Terrell

    When it comes to sex education in Hawaii, deciding how schools should address the subject is about as messy and confusing for the adults in charge as the topic itself can be for teenagers.

    Hawaii is one of just 10 states that does not mandate students be provided access to sex education or taught about HIV/AIDS in public schools.

    And since the controversy over the University of Hawaii’s Pono Choices curriculum, it’s one of just three states where, when sex education is offered, schools ask parents to sign their kids up instead of automatically enrolling students and then offering parents the option to pull them from class.

    That could soon change if the state Board of Education approves a new sex ed policy aimed at requiring schools to provide comprehensive and medically accurate sex ed to all students.

    Students at a rally at the Capitol. The state doesn’t track which schools are offering sex education, although a Board of Education proposal would require all schools to do it.

    Alia Wong/Civil Beat

    The policy discussed by the BOE last week — but as of Tuesday not yet scheduled for a vote — is facing pushback from several state legislators and numerous parents who attended the meeting.

    With all the confusion surrounding sex ed, and the state’s history of failed attempts to pass legislation addressing the issue, it’s unclear what will happen next.

    Some Tough Statistics 

    Hawaii has long grappled with some alarming statistics when it comes to teens and sex.

    There are some good numbers, to be sure. The number of teenage pregnancies in the state has steadily

  • Hawaii Monitor: Order Blocks Enforcement of Ban on Teachers’ Flyers

    · By Ian Lind

    Teachers running for union offices in an internal election now underway will be allowed to distribute their campaign materials in school mailboxes, according to the terms of a temporary restraining order issued last week by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.

    The TRO effectively overrides a recent ruling by staff of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, at least for the next several weeks.

    The labor board’s action came in response to a prohibited practice complaint filed on behalf of the Hawaii State Teachers Association by former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa. HSTA is the exclusive bargaining agent for Hawaii’s 13,500 public school teachers.

    The March 27 order prohibits the Department of Education from enforcing the ethics ruling, which advised that use of teacher mailboxes for campaign materials was “inappropriate,” contrary to the state ethics code, and should not be allowed.

    Meliha Gojak/iStock

    The TRO was based on an agreement between the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the DOE that it “is in the interest of justice and fair play” to allow the current elections to proceed under the rules that have been in place for decades.

    The TRO will remain in effect until April 24, the day after HSTA voting ends.

    A parallel lawsuit seeking a similar TRO through the courts was initially denied, and later withdrawn following the labor board’s action.

    Direct Challenge to Follow

    The union and the DOE also agreed to ask the labor board to defer further action on the HSTA complaint

  • Hawaii Monitor: Ethics Commission Ruling Draws Teachers’ Union Lawsuit

    · By Ian Lind

    The Hawaii State Teachers Association launched two legal actions this week to block enforcement of a new policy prohibiting teachers who are candidates for union offices from distributing their individual campaign materials in school mailboxes.

    The actions came in response to a ruling earlier this month by staff of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission disallowing campaign use of school resources, including teacher mailboxes.

    “We do not think it is appropriate for schools to allow the use of a mailbox to distribute individual teacher campaign information,” executive director Les Kondo told commissioners during their regular monthly meeting on March 18.

    The new ethics ruling ended a common practice which has been “ongong for decades,” Kondo told the commission.

    School buses at the Hawaii State Capitol

    Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat


    It’s one in a string of opinions that have tightened ethics restrictions and applied ethics laws more aggressively since Kondo took over his post in early 2011.

    On Monday, the union filed an emergency motion in First Circuit Court seeking a temporary restraining order to stop enforcement of the ethics ruling and maintain the status quo, at least through the current union election.

    That case was filed by David Alan Nakashima, an attorney with the law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing. Named as defendants are Gov. David Ige, the State of Hawaii, the Department of Education, Board of Education, and Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

    At the same time, former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa filed a prohibited practices complaint with the State Labor Relations Board, which has

  • Hawaii Legislature Should Expand Preschool Programs

    · By Jonathan Gillentine

    Young children need a solid foundation in order to be successful learners, especially as they approach the age of kindergarten. Families and the community as a whole must ensure that preschool children have a strong foundation for learning, a foundation that supports their social, emotional, linguistic, physical, and cognitive development.

    While we have made gains as a state, there is much work to be done to prepare our youngest scholars. That is why it is important for the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 844 and its companion in the house, House Bill 820, which will provide a critical expansion to preschool programs already started.

    Preschoolers at Seagull Schools

    Alia Wong/Civil Beat

    This school year, Hawaii began to provide public preschool through legislative funding of $3 million. The effort was initiated, in part, due to the change in the entry age for kindergarten. Children who reached the age of 5 by July 31, 2014, could start. Children who turned 5 on August 1 or later (many call them the Fall Fives) had to wait another year to enter public school. Those keiki who were not eligible to enter kindergarten were targeted for this new preschool program.

    Unfortunately, funding only provided 21 classrooms across the state. With a maximum of 20 children per classroom, only a mere 420 children could attend, far short of the thousands of children who were eligible by the change in age requirement for kindergarten entry.

    We must continue what we started. SB 844 and HB 820 will

  • Hawaii Schools: Better Attendance Rates But Worse Test Scores

    · By Alia Wong

    Hawaii’s elementary schools have significantly improved their attendance rates, according to the most recent results of Strive HI, the state Department of Education’s system for measuring student performance and growth.

    Schools across the board have also made strides in science proficiency.

    But math and reading scores are down from last year, while college-readiness, graduation and college-going rates have remained steady.

    McKinley High School journalism teacher Cindy Reves prepares for her class, April 2014.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Strive HI is the state’s new accountability system for grading schools and replaces the federal No Child Left Behind program. The DOE touts its focus on customized measurements of success and student growth rather than static test scores. The new results reflect the performance of students during the 2013-14 school year, and many of the measurements compare these findings with those from the 2012-13 school year.

    The reduction in chronic absenteeism — the rate of students missing 15 or more days of school — is one of the most encouraging findings. Chronic absenteeism is a significant predictor of student success, as Civil Beat has reported in the past. The DOE only measures chronic absenteeism among elementary schools.

    The percentage of students absent 15 days or more in the 2013-14 school year dropped to 11 percent from 18 percent a year ago. That’s the equivalent of more than 5,500 students statewide.

    “During a year of tremendous change in our public schools, it is clear that our students and staff continue to answer the call to strive higher at every level,” Superintendent Kathryn

  • Stormy Weather: Hurricane Iselle Is About to Rock Hawaii

    · By Alia Wong

    Hurricane Iselle, the first hurricane that could hit the Big island in more than 20 years, was steadily churning toward Hilo and expected to make landfall Thursday.

    Meanwhile, Hurricane Julio is advancing toward the islands and could strike the Big Island as soon as Sunday. On Wednesday evening, Julio was 1,450 miles east of Hilo, about 1,000 miles behind Iselle. 

    On Wednesday, Iselle was considered a category 1 hurricane. On Tuesday evening it appeared as though the cyclone was weakening, but then it started to strengthen Wednesday. It’s expected to make its way across the rest of the state on Friday. 

    “Because it’s maintaining its strength right now, it’s minimizing the likelihood that it’s going to weaken,” National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Cantin said Wednesday afternoon. “It’ll be a rough end of the week for us.”

    Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell speaks to media at the Department of Emergency Management about city plans for dealing with Hurricane Iselle. August 6, 2014

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Officials are saying little about Julio at this point, noting that it’s still too far away from the archipelago to speculate about its impact on the islands.

    A hurricane warning has been issued for the Big Island — the first such advisory to be issued for the island in more than a decade — while a flash flood watch is in effect across the entire state through Saturday morning. As of Wednesday afternoon, tropical storm warnings had been issued for most

  • Instructors Ask if Hawaii’s New Teacher Evaluation System Fails Students

    · By Alia Wong

    The system being tested out at all public schools this year will affect most teachers’ pay starting in 2015-2016.

  • Hawaii Lawmakers Mull Tempering Sharp Increase in Teaching Hours

    · By Alia Wong

    The state continues to wrestle with the amount of time students should spend in the classroom.

  • Living Hawaii: Many Families Sacrifice to Put Kids in Private Schools

    · By Alia Wong

    One in seven school-age children in the state attend private schools — the highest percentage in the nation.

  • Energy Drain: Is HECO a Drag on Hawaii Schools’ Renewable Power Plan?

    · By Alia Wong

    The multiyear alternative energy plan being rolled out is expected to save millions of dollars a year.

  • Keiki Care: Revolutionary Pilot Program’s Campus Health Care Targets Teens

    · By Alia Wong

    Lack of access to health services prompts the creation of the state’s first at-school clinic.