About the Statewide Listening Tour
Four years ago, the Board of Education (BOE) and Hawaii State Department of Education (DOE) developed their first Joint Strategic Plan. This unified plan represented a commitment to organizing resources at every level of the State education system behind goals and outcomes for student success. In the 2016 review and extension of the Joint DOE/BOE Strategic Plan, education leaders are mindful of the increasing need for a community-wide approach to supporting our students and our island home. Though many things are changing in our social, environmental, and educational landscape, one thing that remains constant is the Joint DOE/BOE Strategic Plan’s core goal of student success. The DOE turned to the community for input about how to define and support success for all keiki given the challenges and opportunities in Hawaii and global society at large. The DOE conducted this “Phase 1” of its statewide listening tour between April and June 2016.
To expand the reach of the Phase 1 statewide listening tour and support the confidential, candid input of a wide range of individuals, the DOE collaborated with Hope Street Group Hawaii State Teacher Fellows Program and Storyline Consulting. With the assistance and partnership of community organizations and schools, this initiative included 108 focus groups and an online survey completed by 1429 community members. Community engagement, continuing through the fall with BOE community meetings, also includes an ongoing online blog and #HIQualityEd social media campaign where Hawaii residents of diverse ages and backgrounds can continue to share what high-quality education looks like to them.
Many individual educators, nonprofit leaders, employers, and community groups made it possible to conduct this extensive statewide listening tour. Groups that helped to promote ongoing participation in this community dialogue include HEʻE Coalition, Parents for Public Schools, Micronesians United Big Island, the Hawaii State Student Council, the Filipino Community Center, Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders, Special Education Advisory Council, DOE’s Complex Area Superintendents, Hawaii News Now, Honolulu Star Advertiser, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, legislators, and the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, among many others. A special mahalo to the Deborah K. Berger and William H. Reeves Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Koaniani Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation, and the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation for their support of the Joint DOE/BOE Strategic Plan review and extension.
The community’s commitment to and passion for our keiki’s education was evident in those who facilitated or organized focus groups to ensure that DOE students, families, and educators had a voice in this process, as well as the thousands of individuals that took time out of their day to participate by attending a community discussion, completing the online survey, participating in the HiQualityEd community blog, and visiting the hawaiipublicschools.org website to learn more about the Joint DOE/BOE Strategic Plan.
Defining Student Success
The statewide listening tour provided an opportunity to hear from students, educators, parents, and community members. Focus group facilitators made a particular effort to talk with a diverse range of students, including Hawaiian culture-based charter school students, Hawaii State Student Council members, incarcerated youth, high school dropouts, and Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders. This provided an opportunity to learn about how students with different experiences define success, and the types of support that will help them meet their goals.
The independent analysis of focus group and survey input by Hope Street Group and Magnolia Consulting found a great deal of common ground between students, parents, educators, and community members that creates the following shared definition of student success:
- Giving back to the community, environment, and world;
- Discovering and pursuing passions so students can reach their full potential;
- Demonstrating strong academic and soft skills, and showing an ability to think critically, solve problems, and apply knowledge to new situations or contexts;
- Being prepared for life after high school, including setting clear goals and developing short-term and long-term engagement in learning;
- Exhibiting strength, confidence, and resilience in their every day lives and being generally healthy and happy; and
- Gaining a strong sense of cultural understanding and appreciation for Hawaii.
Supporting Student Success Through School-Based Approaches and Programs
"It is powerful for students when the science of their learning is connected to where they live. Issues of water, homelessness—what is impacting our community that science teachers or any teachers can incorporate into the lesson?"-Community Member
“SUPPORT STUDENT SUCCESS THROUGH OUTDOOR LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS, AND COURSES THAT PROVIDE HANDS-ON LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES.” –PARENT
Listening tour participants shared their ideas for how best to support the success of DOE students. Whether focusing on the success of all students or specifically on struggling students, participants of all backgrounds and ages emphasized exposure to community service opportunities and to career and college options as a way to increase academic engagement throughout K-12 education, while helping students establish long-term goals and an interest in lifelong learning and service. Hands-on, project-based, place-based, and aina-based learning were frequently mentioned as critical to helping students discover a passion, connect that passion to their day-to-day education, and develop a clear purpose for their learning. In focus groups, students in particular expressed a desire for more in-school career exploration opportunities that link all subject areas to relevant real-world applications. As students gain an understanding of the educational, technical, or on-the-job requirements of their interests, school and community supports can help all students set well-informed and meaningful goals.
“I like having students feel the freedom to pursue their interests or talents. Shadowing a filmmaker, shadowing a doctor, and having the chance to explore and learn more about yourself is really important.”—Student
Support for establishing internship and mentorship opportunities was also identified as important by students, family members, and community members. These real-world opportunities were explained as a helpful way for students to set and achieve meaningful aspirations while also developing needed “soft skills” such as collaboration, communication and commitment.
“I went to elementary school in Hawaii Kai. The Philosophy for Children program helped me to know what was out there since that conversation about higher education hadn’t started with my parents yet. It underscores the importance of school culture and climate and how that trickles down into student mindsets.”—Educator
“EARLY EDUCATION SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULA FOCUS ON 'PEOPLE IN MY COMMUNITY AND THEIR JOBS.' HOW CAN WE CONNECT THAT INFORMATION TO WHAT STUDENTS WANT TO PURSUE IN LIFE?”—COMMUNITY MEMBER
Participants mentioned expanding career exploration opportunities into elementary and middle schools, culminating in setting clear goals in high school and being well-prepared for the requirements of entering and completing a college degree or vocational certificate. In addition to good counseling about how to match specific career goals with degree or certificate completion requirements, participants frequently mentioned the importance of initiatives like AVID, GEAR UP, Upward Bound, and other college support programs. Early college credit and dual enrollment options were noted as helpful for existing college-bound students as well as potential first-generation college students who may want to learn more and explore college as an option.
“Two programs I have found successful in my school—the '55 by 25' pledge and the AVID program—they teach study skills and how to do well in college situation. A lot of the students who wouldn’t take college level classes, they are taking them now, and with Running Start, they have bigger goals and dreams and believe it is all attainable.”—Student
“[Career] Academies are really supporting all students, but especially struggling students that aren’t able to have clear goal setting. The direction provides them options to explore interests and pursue them start to finish.” –Educator
Student participants in particular mentioned rigorous academics, positive relationships with teachers and counselors, and high expectations as important for their overall success. Many students—even those that had dropped out of high school—identified relationships with teachers or counselors as critical to student success. Typically, students and parents describe the importance of a "teacher who cares” and makes a personal connection using a teaching approach that connected classroom learning with a current event or community issue. Educator focus groups also highlighted the importance of strong relationships, and a need for time and support for building and maintaining a healthy connection to their students.
“Especially in the countryside, a lot of the students don’t feel like the teachers really care about them. Why would they have someone who doesn’t want to be there work with students that are already struggling? It is just a set up for failure. People have to stop having such low expectations—and have to stop treating us like we are only good to a certain extent. Because that is the mindset of the students now, and they aren't going to change until they see something change with the expectations.”—Student
All of the above items were emphasized as important whether students are academically thriving or struggling to meet expectations. Additional supports that participants identified as specific to at-risk students included mentoring, additional learning time, and a supportive school environment.
Community Challenges and Issues Affecting Students and Their Families
As citizens we have a responsibility to nurture a young person all the way. Any opportunity to mentor or guide them, we need to keep pushing them along into opportunities.”—Community Member
When asked to identify the biggest issues facing students outside of the school and classroom, participants most frequently mentioned a need for more parent and family support. Educators and education leaders noted that students and parents do not always see the relevance in what they are learning and that this can impact student engagement as well as parent engagement. Involving parents and families in school activities can be a challenge given the many demands on people’s time. To support student success, educators that participated in the listening tour identified that parents and guardians could ask their children about daily activities, review homework, and provide resources for learning at home, such as books and technology.
During in-person focus groups, parents mentioned that increased communication from school would help strengthen the bridge between home and school. Some focus group participants noted that this communication could be more consistently translated into other languages as well. Families shared that a positive, strengths-based connection would help them feel welcome. Parents that immigrated to Hawaii from other countries also mentioned that student success is more likely when teachers celebrate diverse heritages as an asset and take a positive interest in learning more about the cultures of the students in their classroom. Finally, when a world language is spoken at home in addition to or instead of English, students are sometimes misclassified as English Language Learners, regardless of their own fluency levels in English. This reportedly can lead to frustration and strained relationships between schools and families.
The second-largest issue identified is the increasing poverty and homelessness among Hawaii’s children. Alcohol, illegal drugs, gangs, peer pressure and bullying are also of concern. To address these needs, educators and education leaders suggested that a community-wide approach, extending beyond school, is needed for assistance with basic shelter, food and clothing, as well as a safe environment. Participants requested increased student supports for physical and mental health, including resources for behavioral and emotional health.
“A lot of trauma comes to the school with them every day—they have mental health issues and need social and emotional supports. We need to look at that in partnership with other agencies, so students can get the help they need. We need The mental health support with our kids and it is just not there.”—Educator
Parents and students frequently mentioned the important role of community clubs and organizations such as INPEACE, YMCA, Key Clubs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and church programs. Community members' responses about key support for students outside of the school and classroom focused on: Creating jobs and job training opportunities for youth; financial support and scholarships to students and schools; and volunteer mentors and tutors.
“OUR HIGH SCHOOL HAS A 50% DROPOUT RATE. ROTC GIVES A SENSE OF PURPOSE AND COMMUNITY THAT HELPS KEEP KIDS FROM DROPPING OUT.”—EDUCATOR
Effective School-Community Partnerships
When asked what the DOE can do to help grow successful school-community partnerships that support student aspirations, community members most frequently mentioned a need to foster positive communications between schools, community stakeholders, and DOE leadership. Community members suggested that groups come together regularly to advance potential partnerships, and build bridges between schools and community members that want to volunteer in schools as mentors, guest speakers, and presenters at job or college fairs. In addition, community members noted that the DOE could help prepare students for life after high school by providing greater support for internships and apprenticeship programs.
WE NEED SPECIFIC MECHANISMS TO PARTNER WITH SCHOOLS—LIKE A COORDINATOR. TEACHERS AND PRINCIPALS HAVE A ZILLION THINGS TO DO. THE STAFF TURNOVER WE HAVE MEANS THAT WE DON’T ALWAYS KNOW WHAT IS OUT THERE. AND NONPROFITS WANT THAT CONNECTION.”—EDUCATOR
How can Hawaii DOE Improve Supports for Student Success?
Focus group facilitators and the online survey questions asked all participants how the DOE could improve and better support student success. The most frequently mentioned area for improvement was fostering excellent educators and education leaders. Participants shared a desire for highly qualified, inspiring personnel at the classroom, school, and state levels, and also specifically emphasized a need for increased cultural knowledge and sensitivity. The second most-mentioned suggestion for improvement is a broadened curriculum for a well-rounded educational experience. In particular, participants mentioned creativity, the arts, and the ability to tailor one’s education. Participants emphasized a need for relevant, personalized instruction that maximizes individual strengths and interests. This connects back to input from participants that one of the greatest challenges facing students is that they do not perceive their educational experiences as relevant.
"Find each child's unique spark, and create opportunities to nurture and grow that spark via experiences, relationships, and skills"-Community Member
Another area for improvement is strengthening collaborative relationships at all levels. This includes relationships between the DOE state offices and schools, relationships within and between schools, and relationships between educators and parents, families, and community members. Participants communicated that schools should consider teacher, parent, and student feedback on a regular basis in order to meet the needs of diverse student groups.