Despite challenges, focus still on students
Hulamom: I would like an explanation of this so-called budget shortfall. Why is it that the safety and education of our children are put at risk just to make ends meet? I understand the need to charge parents more for lunch and transportation, but couldn't they at least continue to provide bus service until the start of spring break? Has the DOE truly exhausted all measures to save money so that our kids do not suffer? I don't believe so.
Kathryn Matayoshi: The DOE budget has been reduced by $473 million so far over the two-year budget cycle. However, children's health and safety is always a top priority for us. The shortfall in the bus budget is one of many difficult areas where we need to think about how we can reduce expenses while providing the needed transportation for our students.
The department continues to explore all other budget-cutting options such as increasing class size, further reducing or eliminating programs and even, regrettably , layoffs or school closures.
Nanakuli Bill: The number of kids not finishing high school in disadvantaged areas is excessive, and principally the failure of our primary grades to prepare them for higher learning.
Parents can help but they need to know what skills their child should have upon entering kindergarten and first grade. It would also help if they had a list of the basic skills teachers are trying to teach in kindergarten through sixth grades.
The previous superintendent and the BOE wouldn't help, will you?
Kathryn Matayoshi: I absolutely agree that education in the early years is critical to a student's future success. The DOE has a strong partnership with Hawai'i P20 and the Good Beginnings Alliance, focusing on assuring that children are reading at grade level at grade three. Studies show that children learn to read up to that grade, then read to learn, so we must focus on getting students all the support they need.
Jane: The governor is proposing that the Legislature make the DOE superintendent a governor-appointed post. What are your feelings about this?
Kathryn Matayoshi: When I was a part of Gov. Cayetano's Cabinet, the superintendent was always invited to attend Cabinet meetings, and that was critical for communication between the governor and the superintendent. I look forward to hearing the specifics of the governor's proposal in her State of the State address.
Kimo: What are your three top priorities as the interim superintendent?
Kathryn Matayoshi: My top three priorities: 1) reduce or eliminate furloughs; 2) find solutions to the budget reductions that will allow us to provide a quality education for all our students; and 3) implement the reforms that we have outlined in our Race to the Top application.
Mike from Hawaii Kai: Innovation in struggling areas is a good thing, but sometimes the perception is that Hawai'i's policy is to make sure that everyone achieves at the same, mediocre level.
What will you do to support innovation in schools that are doing relatively well? Specifically, Haha'ione Elementary, Niu Valley Middle, and Kaiser High School are in my district, and they are trying to implement the International Baccalaureate program, a highly respected course of study. What type of support are you providing to these schools, which are truly trying to provide a public alternative to private schools?
Kathryn Matayoshi: Programs like the International Baccalaureate are in line with the college and career-ready standards that are included in our Race to the Top application. One of the goals is to increase the number of students graduating from our high schools based on standards that are internationally benchmarked. The idea is to raise the achievement of all students, including those who are already achieving at a high level. I look forward to further discussions on how we can expand the IB program to other areas. I'm going to ask Ronn Nozoe, the acting deputy superintendent, to follow up.
Judi Steinman: What is the status of the school closure list? How do we find out if our school is on the closure list? If it is, when might schools actually be closed?
What are we doing to ensure that Hawai'i legislation enables Hawai'i to be eligible for federal Race to the Top funds?
What will you do to seek parity for charter school funding?
Kathryn Matayoshi: On school consolidations: Please contact our office of school facilities and support services at 586-3444 to get information on the specific schools you are interested in.
On the Race to the Top: We just submitted our application to the U.S. DOE, and we feel we are in a good position, with a solid application.
On charter school funding: Charter school funding issue is a matter of ongoing discussions by the Charter School Review Panel, the BOE, DOE, the Legislature, charter schools and other interested parties. We can all agree that every student in our public schools deserves a quality education.
Kelly: What proposals are you going to put before the Legislature this year?
Kathryn Matayoshi: We are focusing our efforts on the budget, and have submitted limited, house-keeping-type bills this session.
Ron: What are your thoughts about breaking up the DOE so that each county district would have their own department of education? As it is, the DOE is too large to manage.
Kathryn Matayoshi: One of our advantages over other states in the Race to the Top is our single state school district. We are also able to leverage our economies of scale to drive reforms more efficiently and effectively. We do need to streamline and become more efficient and responsive to our schools and students. That will be an area of focus for me.
HawaiiKaiMom: What has been or what do you see as the biggest obstacle to change and reform in the DOE?
Kathryn Matayoshi: There are many factors that are obstacles, but no matter what, while change is often scary, it is needed. We need to remain focused on the students, and if every employee in the department can see that straight line to how their job directly affects the student in the classroom, we will see that change happen.
Hokulani: Everyone sees the division within the BOE. How does this impact your ability to get things done? Please be honest.
Kathryn Matayoshi: With the challenges we face, and the opportunities before us with the Race to the Top, all leaders in education need to be united in our focus on student achievement. There are difficult decisions ahead for all of us, and if we keep our focus on students, we'll make the right decisions.
Kay Kimura: Hawai'i students continue to score toward the bottom nationally while funding per capita is among the highest in the country. (The) current educational structure is unwieldy. Various entities are often adversarial, sometimes dysfunctional. What are your plans and priorities to address this concern?
Kathryn Matayoshi: There are two ways to look at this: First, we need to focus on student achievement. Second, we need to streamline and become more efficient in how we obtain and deliver the resources that students need to achieve. Both go hand in hand in making the best use of our resources. The size of the organization does not have to be a barrier, if we can take advantage of the benefits of a unified school system. We recognize that we have challenges and need to improve, and that will be my focus.