New teachers train for Hawaii schools
When he finished college in Ohio, Michael Brockmeier passed up the enticing option of starting his career in Hawaii so he could teach math closer to home.
Now, after stints at public schools in Maryland and in the District of Columbia, he feels ready for the Waianae Coast.
The 30-year-old is among some 70 teachers hired to teach at hard-to-recruit-for schools in the Waianae Complex under a new program.
With a $1 million federal grant, the project paid for island principals and others to roam the state and the mainland last year in search of teachers that would best fit the needs of Waianae students. The area has historically had trouble attracting educators because it is a poor neighborhood and a far drive from communities closer to downtown Honolulu.
"The Waianae Coast has always had a problem because of the distance and the outside perception of the community," said Brad Bennett, a teacher mentor for the seven-school complex. "What we are trying to do is bring them in, make them feel welcome and make sure they understand they were chosen to be here. It's not like they were the only people left on the list."
The teachers are attending workshops this week at the Makaha Resort & Golf Club to familiarize themselves with the area as well as its people and the Hawaiian culture. The grant also will pay for six mentors who will follow up with the instructors for the entire year.
"This is so much more welcoming. Everything is more family oriented. They want to know what is important to us, what concerns we have," Brockmeier said when asked to compare the program to other school receptions.
The program, which the grant originally limited to Waianae High only, was expanded to its feeder schools through a bill passed by the Legislature in the spring. It set aside $1 million over two years for similar recruiting and training efforts at Waianae intermediate and elementary schools, said state Rep. Maile Shimabukuro, who represents the area and introduced the bill.
Shimabukuro said lawmakers were encouraged to hear officials with the state Department of Education say they would look at the Waianae program as a pilot that could be duplicated to meet teacher shortages in other places.
"Waianae as well as other rural communities have suffered for years and years from a very high turnover of teachers," she said. "It's so detrimental to the students because there's no continuity of teachers and it's hard to develop relationships with the teachers if they don't come back."
About 35 percent of Waianae High teachers leave the campus each year to retire or to move on to a different school or state, said Principal JoAnn Kumusaka. Lately, because Waianae is under federal restructuring sanctions due to poor test scores, teachers have sought jobs at schools in better standing.
"That's what we are trying to address, the recruitment and the retention," Kumusaka said.
She said prospective employees seem happy with the recently approved teacher contract, which gives 4 percent raises in each of the next two school years and brings the starting teacher pay to $43,157, up from $39,901. It also includes a $3,000-a-year differential for licensed teachers working in Waianae, Nanakuli and Keaau on the Big Island.
But even with the incentives, Hawaii will likely still need to work hard to hire as many as 1,700 teachers for each of the next several years, said Joan Husted, executive director of the teacher's union.
Statistics show that 60 percent of teachers from the mainland and half of local hires quit after their third year, citing steep housing and food costs as their top reason, followed by complaints over a lack of administrative support and student discipline, Husted said.
In recent years, the state has been able to hire between 1,500 and 1,700 teachers per school year, said Greg Knudsen, education department spokesman. The DOE has about 350 vacancies left to fill for the coming school year, which begins July 26 for teachers. Most of the positions are in math, science and special education.