By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
HONOLULU — Hawaii’s Department of Education is scaling back a move to provide extra learning time for struggling schools.
Last year’s approval of extended learning time for low-performing schools on Oahu’s Waianae coast and in the Kau, Keaau and Pahoa areas of the Big Island, along with the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind, was heralded as a stride toward progress on school reforms that won Hawaii a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant.
The agreement approved by 80 percent of the more than 1,100 teachers in those schools called for about an hour more per day, Monday through Thursday, and 12 additional days of teacher training. That represents about 18 percent more in compensation for teachers.
Negotiations are ongoing to finalize an agreement for Waianae Elementary and the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind, which would make them the only schools that would continue to get the compensated extra time for all teachers, Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe said.
“We learned from the first year of implementation,” he said. “We’re going to be more targeted and more focused this time. It’s a more strategic and focused approach.”
Nozoe said Thursday that things that worked during extended learning will move into the regular school day. That will allow for targeted, individualized attention after school for students who need it, he said.
When U.S. Department of Education reviewers visited Hawaii last year to evaluate progress on Race to the Top reforms, state education officials showed off the approved agreement for extended learning time as a major accomplishment. Hawaii had been warned that if satisfactory progress wasn’t made on reforms, the grant money could be taken away.
Hawaii officials are still working out exactly how extended learning time will ultimately look in the remaining 17 schools, Nozoe said, which will still be consistent with Race to the Top reforms.
The state didn’t do a good job of maximizing the extra time during the pilot period, said Al Nagasako, executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
“From my perspective, I don’t think it was well thought-out,” he said. “It appears it was a check-off piece. But it had tremendous potential.”
There wasn’t enough guidance from the department on how schools should be spending the extra time and methods varied across campuses, Nagasako said.
News that not all schools will be getting the compensated time is disappointing to many teachers who depend on the extra income, a boost to work in the most challenging schools. But there are also some teachers who complained the longer day meant less time with their families, especially for those with long commutes to rural schools, Nagasako said.
Nozoe said the first year was about learning what worked, including students taking online courses to recover credit for failed classes, math and reading computer-based tutorials adapted to individual student’s skill levels and hands-on learning projects such as aquaponics.
Juli Patten, a third-grade teacher Maili Elementary, said Friday the school year is almost over and teachers haven’t heard about what will happen in the fall.
“We’ve been asking for six months, is it going to be extended,” she said, “is it going to end?”
A year wasn’t enough time to evaluate such a big change, she said.
“I had an hour more to interact with my kids,” she said, which allowed for time on subjects such as art and social studies, while focusing on math, reading and science during the regular school day.
For Amber Riel, a Waianae High School math teacher, the extra pay didn’t make up for getting home late and the stress of trying to find funding for the art class she taught during the extra period. She commutes more than an hour on the bus. She used her own money for supplies. The extra pay, however, helped her pursue a master’s degree.
“I think it had really good intentions, but it was poorly executed,” she said.
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