Web site gives data on BOE candidates
The nonprofit group's site also offers forums for discussing issues
As voters head to the polls Saturday to chose from scores of candidates running for several offices, a new nonprofit group is urging them to do their homework for one particular race: the Board of Education.
The Learning Coalition was formed to encourage the growth of successful programs in campuses throughout the islands - a mission that the group's founders, Debbie Berger and Bill Reeves, hope to accomplish with the assistance of qualified school board leaders.
"When what you want is system change, you work at all levels," Berger said about their push to raise awareness about the school board's primary election.
To prevent voters from picking candidates based on name recognition or the order they appear on the ballot, the nonpartisan coalition has bought newspaper advertisements and launched a Web site with candidate profiles, links to education stories and even a vote tracker showing which issues are being supported or opposed by sitting school board members.
Five school board incumbents are facing challenges from 13 candidates this year. And at least one of three Oahu at-large seats will be filled by a newcomer because incumbent Cec Heftel is not seeking re-election.
The 14-member school board, which includes one student representative, oversees the state Department of Education and sets policy for 283 public schools.
The coalition's site also includes discussion boards where visitors can weigh in on topics ranging from the Education Department's $2.4 billion budget to a proposal to test teachers for drugs and an idea to split up Hawaii's sole school board.
Reeves envisions the organization's online page eventually becoming a forum where educators can share best practices and partner to spread model programs. He suspects people in Hawaii have a generally poor perception of the public education system because they rarely hear about success stories happening in classrooms statewide.
"We are basically trying to build a movement," Reeves said. "The average citizen doesn't like what he or she sees, but some public schools are great."
Through their foundation, Unbound Philanthropy, Reeves and Berger were behind a program that received the state Education Department's 2007 Partnership in Education Award. Launched in 2005, the Partnerships in Unlimited Educational Opportunities, or PUEO, allows public school students to take summer courses at Punahou School to motivate them to enroll in college and get a degree.
The program has grown from 40 to 160 students who have joined PUEO after completing fifth grade, said director Carl Ackerman, a Punahou School history teacher. Participants return to the private campus every summer, studying math, science, robotics and aviation, until they graduate from high school.
"The essence here is the public-private partnership," Ackerman said. "Not only is it a model for The Learning Coalition, but I think it's a model that can be used across the state of Hawaii."