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There’s no question that Hawaii’s public schools – students, teachers, and administrators – have had a tough few years. COVID-19 has disrupted many aspects of our community, and schools have been among the hardest hit. Prolonged closures, the transition to remote learning, and the loss of support services have exposed and exacerbated pre-existing challenges and inequities in our education system.
As we enter an era indelibly shaped by our COVID experiences, we also have a transition in the leadership of the Hawaii Department of Education. With Keith Hayashi selected as the new Superintendent of Hawaii Public Schools and Governor David Ige appointing Bruce Voss as the new Chair of the Board of Education, the DOE has an opportunity to harness the momentum for change and respond to the needs education of our students.
In rising to these leadership positions, it behooves Mr. Hayashi and Mr. Voss to not only identify the needs of our schools and our students, but to take action. To that end, we believe there are three key areas, if addressed effectively, that would have a real and lasting impact on education in Hawaii.
Transportation. We can’t let the simplicity of this basic need make it disposable. We need to find a better way to get all children to school. Whether it’s a shortage of bus drivers, inadequate routes in rural communities, or a lack of consistent and punctual schedules, if children can’t get to school, everything what happens in class makes no difference. Placing the burden of student transportation on parents and school staff is not the solution. The DOE must ensure that it is not only possible, but safe and reliable, for children to travel to school.
Digital Literacy. The pandemic has catalyzed the use and exploration of alternative forms of learning. Online connectivity tools and learning apps encourage innovation and allow keiki to connect with other students and resources not just from their schools, but around the world. The task now is to ensure that these opportunities and skills are readily available to all of our students, including the availability of a device and internet access. We must ensure that all of our students learn to function in the digital world and take advantage of the opportunities it offers.
Bridging the learning gap. During COVID, students experienced learning loss across all domains, and at even higher rates for those who had other factors at play, including socio-economic status, health status/ability and language proficiency. Schools need the resources and flexibility to reach their students where they are and get them to a place where they are ready to succeed. What will the DOE do to compensate for lost learning in our statewide student population? How can we expand behavioral and mental health services for these children at all school levels? What can we do, as a community, to help at-risk learners be on an equal footing with their peers?
None of these problems are new. The DOE, school administrators, teachers, students, parents, and the community know and have experienced what needs to be fixed for a long time. But now is the time to act and make changes. It takes an infusion of new energy and motivation to change the status quo. We hope that new DOE leadership will take bold steps to change the status quo; and as members of the community, we are ready to help you.
Susan Maddox and Wally Lau are members of the Hokupaʻa Navigation Council.