Hawaii Leading Pack in Race to the Top, Thanks to Local Support

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Hawaii Leading Pack in Race to the Top, Thanks to Local Support
We report on Hawaii’s stellar progress in its Race to the Top efforts and how the support of one philanthropic organization on the Islands is contributing to that success.
As states continue the hard work initiated by Race to the Top, Hawaii appears to be showing the rest of the nation how to get things done. The state, which is also one of the largest school districts in the country, is busy getting ducks in a row to comply with Race to the Top requirements. As a district that had received a high-risk mark from the federal government for its lack of progress less than two years ago, Hawaii, thanks to hard work and a key contribution from a local philanthropist, is becoming a shining example of how persistence can pay off in the wonderful world of public education.
 
Racing to the Top
 
In 2010, Hawaii won a $75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s new Race to the Top program, according to Education Week. The school district had ambitious plans for revamping its system, including transitioning public schools to Common Core Standards, improving teacher development programs and establishing a new teacher’s contract. Unfortunately, the federal government wasn’t impressed - at first.
 
By December, 2011, the state had received a black mark from the U.S. Education Department. The federal agency said the school had achieved high-risk status because it had failed to make adequate progress toward reaching its Race to the Top goals. But Hawaii wasn’t going to be thwarted from their efforts. By February, 2013, the state had regained its good standing for at least a portion of its grant, and now may be on track to meet its goals without any need for the no-cost extensions the federal government is now offering some states.
 
Money Comes In
Part of Hawaii’s success can be attributed to a generous donation that came in just when the state needed it most. Pacific Business News reports that two years ago, the Harold K.L Castle Foundation committed to providing the district with $10 million to help it reach its Race to the Top goals. The CEO of the foundation, Mitch D’Olier, is a supporter of public education, as a product of the public education system in Chicago.
 
D’Olier told Pacific Business News that his ability to assist the massive school district during their Race to the Top efforts is one of the crowning achievements of his foundation. He is also quick to point out that the work of Superintendent Kathy Matayoshi, as well as her right-hand man Steve Schatz, has made the most of his contribution. D’Olier admits there is still plenty of hard work ahead for the district, but he is optimistic that the tide has turned for Hawaii Public Schools and that they will meet their milestones from this point on.
 
About the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation
 
According to the foundation’s website, public schools are an important representation of society’s general belief that every child has the potential to do great things, with the proper education to support him. Unfortunately, because public schools have not been equipped to provide equal education opportunities to all students, children do not currently enjoy the same possibilities.

The foundation is committed to closing the “achievement gap,” through leadership, savvy financial management, data-driven planning, higher expectations and policy changes.The foundation is focused on public education in Hawaii, believing that if education can be changed in this state, it can be changed anywhere.
 
“The health of families, our communities, our economy, and our democracy depends on a system of excellent public schools for all students,” the foundation’s website states.
 
 

Biggest Hurdle Crossed
 
Hawaii has used the contribution from the foundation wisely, as the state and district continue to work toward its Race to the Top goals. Education Week reports that one of the most challenging components to this process has been the establishment of a teacher contract that ties teacher salaries and evaluations to student test scores. It was not until April, 2013, that this goal was met, with a new contract approved by teachers.

The new contract calls for teacher evaluations to be linked to student performance during the upcoming school year. Teacher salaries will be linked to test scores by 2015.The evaluations are already getting a test run in numerous schools throughout the district. Once the pilot is completed, the new contract calls for the teachers’ union and the state to come together and determine whether the new system is working or needs some tweaking before it is used on a district-wide basis.
 
Making Progress
 
In addition to the new teacher contract, the state has also made a number of additional progress steps to come closer to full Race to the Top compliance. The state is prepared to implement Common Core Standards in all grade levels for the upcoming school year. Officials have also created teacher development that will help bring teachers in line with the new standards. Finally, the state has established a new data system as required by the U.S. Department of Education.

The district must still work through the details of the evaluation system, which will be tackled once the pilot program is complete. The state must also continue its hard work in the classroom as teachers begin to implement the standards imposed by the federal government. The “race” has now become a “work in progress.”

Although there is still much work to do in Hawaii, much work has already been done in this large district and state. Hawaii has moved up the ranks from being categorized as a high-risk state to one that has become a stellar example of what a school district can do when everyone comes together with a common goal in mind.
 
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