What would you ask for our schools in 2006?
HAPPY New Year! Thanks go to all who worked to improve our schools this past year. From donating books, participating in school fundraisers, serving on School Community Councils or volunteering at schools, each of us can find ways to help.
An informal survey of friends, acquaintances and strangers elicited these responses to the question, "What is your New Year's wish for Hawaii's schools?"
Many thought more money for education was essential. Others thought money wasn't the problem. Some had complaints about or praise for teachers. Principals were praised for their dedication and hard work, and criticized for lacking vision. One recently retired teacher hoped 2006 would bring greater trust between parents and school personnel.
Many hoped 2006 would see our schools in better repair. One said, "How we maintain our schools is an indication of how we value our children." Examples of school bathrooms -- dirty, closed or in poor repair -- also were mentioned.
Although aging schools in bad repair marked 2005, the new year brings good news. Mandated by Act 51 (the Reinventing Education Act of 2004), the transfer of repair and maintenance (R&M) and design and construction for schools from the Department of Accounting and General Services to the Department of Education has been completed.
Since R&M is now housed in one state agency rather than split between two, greater efficiency has resulted in faster service to schools. Schools can now directly initiate work orders and emergency requests online to a "one-stop" DOE response center. A backlog of about 3,000 work orders has been reduced, allowing for faster attention to the approximately 500 new requests for R&M that come in from schools each week. Commendations go to both the DOE and DAGS for breaking with established practice and finding a new way to deliver services.
I was especially encouraged that everyone I asked had something to say about education. To their good thoughts and wishes, I would like to add several of my own.
» While commending the commitment to education of the governor, Legislature, Board of Education and superintendent of schools, I hope 2006 will bring a "de-politicizing" of education. A meeting of the governor, the superintendent, the House and Senate education chairmen, and the chairman of the BOE to air differences and find mutual ground would be an excellent first step.
» I hope education will receive its fair share of Hawaii's budget surplus, making schools safe, attractive and well maintained, and I hope the Legislature will honor the DOE's prioritized list of school R&M projects.
» I hope 2006 will be the year in which the DOE reviews how effectively its money is spent, and that it will consider adding the position of chief financial officer to its management structure.
> I wish complex area superintendents could become the true "field generals" of the DOE operation, with their own staff, rather than functioning primarily, it seems, as conduits for directives from the state DOE office.
» I hope weighted student formula will be seen for what it is -- a method for allocating funds to schools based on student characteristics. It is not an instrument for equalizing staffing inequities.
» Finally, I wish all in Hawaii's education system might exhibit greater trust in the efforts of others (at every level), might break out of previous mindsets about how things should be done, and might adopt a genuine willingness to relearn and retool.
What is your wish for education in 2006?
Ruth Tschumy is a consultant to the Hawaii Educational Policy Center, a nonpartisan research organization.