Officials admit to twin summer challenges: hiring staff and getting kids to attend

The Hawaii Board of Education Thursday approved a plan to spend up to $58 million in federal pandemic aid funds on summer learning loss programs, transportation, food service, and student computer devices for the next two summers. The board also authorized making for-credit summer school programs this summer free of charge.

State Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto outlined her plan to respond to students whose achievement has suffered during the pandemic.

For example, based on middle school data, Kishimoto said more than 20,000 students in grades 5-8 are two or more years behind in reading and math.

“Additional supports need to be in place to bring that group of students up to grade-level expectations,” Kishimoto told the board.

Kishimoto said she sought BOE approval to expand summer programs for the next two summers so principals can plan ahead, “to re-engage students and make sure that they are up-to-speed at or above their grade level.”

The board approved funding for the following services:

  • Roughly 212 school learning hubs prioritizing programs for graduating seniors, students who are academically behind, those in transition grades (incoming kindergarten, elementary to middle, middle to high and high school to college, career or military), and students identified with engagement challenges because of the pandemic. Programs may focus on remediation or credit recovery, intervention, transition, and/or enrichment, such as music or sports camps, science, technology, engineering, math, and other disciplines. (Cost estimate for the next two summers: $18.2 million)
  • A summer start kindergarten transition program would provide a free three-week in-person classroom experience for incoming kindergarteners with little or no preschool experience. It would focus on student behaviors and school routines to increase students’ confidence and foster a sense of independence. (Cost estimate for the next two summers: $3.58 million)
  • Summer food service. (Cost estimate for the next two summers: $12 million)
  • Summer transportation for special education students and others. (Cost estimate for the next two summers: $12 million)
  • A computer refresh to close the device gap for students as well as replace outdated and non-functional student devices at schools. (Cost estimate for this summer only: $8.4 million)
  • Free for-credit summer school. (Cost estimate for this summer only: $1 million)

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee raised concerns about whether the HIDOE will be able to find enough students and qualified teachers for summer school learning hubs.

“From last summer, we discovered there was not a huge demand from parents for summer school,” Rosenlee told the BOE.

In preparation for this summer, Rosenlee said, “I have heard from one teacher in the Big Island when the principal asked for volunteers to teach summer school, there wasn’t one teacher who volunteered. The teachers were just too exhausted from this very difficult school year. So will we have enough staff for summer school, and if we can’t find qualified teachers what will be the quality of these summer school hubs?”

Complex area superintendents echoed Rosenlee’s concerns.

Paul Zina, complex area superintendent for Kauai, told the board, “The challenges are to get more of these students to show up for summer school. It’s not something we can force families to do.”

Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua Complex Area Bob Davis explained the challenge in staffing up summer learning hubs. “They have to find the adults who are willing and wanting to work in these learning hubs,” Davis said.

BOE Member Bruce Voss agreed that the challenge is encouraging participation by students and staff. “It’s one thing to have the best programs you can, it’s another to make sure the most people participate,” he said.

Keone Farias, the Kau-Keeau-Pahoa complex area superintendent, told board members school staff are targeting students and families in Kau, which has a high population of Marshallese and Chuukese.

“I’ve been walking door-to-door in some of these subdivisions and being chased by dogs,” Farias said.

Sometimes at the end of the day, Farias said he and his staff have only reached six or eight kids. “As we reach out and encourage them and provide them the opportunity, they bring friends and their engagement starts to grow,” he said.

“The longer they’re not engaged the more complacent they become,” he added, fearing that the longer some students stay disconnected from school, the harder it will be to get them to re-engage.

Disa Hauge, the interim Nanakuli-Waianae CAS, told the board her complex tracks those children academically at risk.

“I could pull a list of exactly which kids are struggling with their final credits, know who’s working with them, give them bus passes, meet their social-emotional needs,” Hauge said.

Cheri Nakamura, director of education nonprofit HEʻE Coalition, told the board that HIDOE’s current summer school plan doesn’t adequately address key concerns. “It is still not clear to us how schools will specifically target the students with greatest learning loss,” Nakamura said.

“Additionally, we don’t know how the DOE will evaluate the schools’ programs’ effectiveness, especially vis-à-vis our high-need students. Furthermore, we cannot tell to what extent tri-level coordination has improved, and what we have heard from parents is that there has not been targeted communication to families about summer school. We urge the BOE to obtain more clarity and specifics from the DOE on this plan, the implementation, and how it will monitor program effectiveness,” Nakamura added.