KILAUEA — Several teachers at Kilauea Elementary School are feeling such pressure to implement a new pilot program called the Educator Effectiveness System, they’ve sent a letter protesting the measure to the Hawaii Board of Education and the Hawaii Department of Education.
Calling it a “disaster,” the teachers said the new program is having a negative impact on teachers, students and schools.
“It’s taking the fun out of education and taking time away from students,” said Michael Kline, a special education teacher at Kilauea Elementary. “They’ve passed out hundreds of pages about the program giving us no time to read them. The amount of work is overwhelming. The teachers are exhausted. I’ve never seen morale lower than it is now and I’ve been through a lot in the past, including a strike.”
Kline sent the letter in early February after having it signed by three other Kilauea Elementary teachers who are nationally board certified teachers, along with Kline. They are Farrah Krovoza, Joanne Thompson and Judy Waite. In the letter they state that they are committed to the EES program and believe that an evaluation program is a valuable tool at truly improving teaching practices. But the way the EES program was rolled out and implemented has caused grief for them and their fellow teachers. Kline said they are extremely concerned about the programs impact on the students.
In the past, teachers were evaluated once every five years. Now, under the change, their teaching skills are observed two times each year, which can take anywhere from two to eight hours for a principal to complete for each teacher.
That has left some educators feeling pinched for time.
But Donalyn Dela Cruz, DOE director of communications and community affairs, said there are bound to be bumps in the road any time something new is put in place.
“Like anything new, you’ll have some people who are happy and others who are unhappy,” Dela Cruz said.
Wil Okabe, resident of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said that some of the over 2,500 surveys completed by their 13,500 members indicate that certain areas of the program need to be addressed.
“I understand the frustrations teachers are having with the pilot program,” said Okabe. “Because it is a new evaluation system, we are finding it has a lot of challenges.”
In the feedback surveys from HSTA members, the association is finding comments about lack of time for evaluation preparation and lack of resources, among other complaints.
“It was never meant to be punitive,” said Okabe. “It is intended to enhance professional development.”
Dara Young, DOE communications specialist said that the EES system was agreed to by both the DOE and HSTA through the teacher contracts ratified in 2013.
But some of the teachers said the EES program wasn’t included until the contract deal was done.
“We were hoodwinked,” said Waite, a Kilauea Elementary School teacher with 16 years of teaching experience. “They hid this (the EES program) from us until we agreed to a contract. If we had known, we never would have voted for this. Keeping up with the EES requirements is like having another full-time job on top of teaching.
A portion of the funds from the Race to the Top funding have been used to design and develop the EES program.
“We already have to work too hard,” Waite said. “All this added work on top is ridiculous. I was up until midnight the past three nights preparing for an EES requirement tomorrow on top of correcting papers and researching online resources to teach with that haven’t even been provided to us.”
But it is the students’ well-being that the teachers are worried about, too.
“If parents knew how much the kids are being tested to jump through these hoops, I don’t think they would like it. And the teachers are losing their enthusiasm to teach because they’re exhausted,” said Kline.
On Feb. 10, Sen. Mike Gabbard responded to the letter emailed to him by the teachers. He said he’d keep the concerns in mind.
“Thanks for sending me this information regarding your concerns with the new teacher evaluation system. As an Education Committee member and former high school teacher, I’ll definitely keep these issues in mind as we consider legislation this session and also in my interactions with the DOE and BOE.”
The teachers complained about inconsistent and inadequate training with regard to EES, not enough support, not enough work time to accomplish requirements and confusing student surveys. Those factors, among others, are creating a work environment for a majority of teachers that is, “far from enjoyable.”
“It is so disheartening to hear so many teachers say that they no longer like teaching, are going to retire, are so exhausted already in the year, and feel so disrespected primarily because of how the pilot program has been rolled out,” they wrote.
Their suggested solutions include the implementation of adequate and consistent training, a revision of the EES process to improve teacher practices, an apology from the BOE and DOE for the way the program was rolled out, additional time for new hires to be trained about the EES program before being evaluated and collaboration with teachers on future initiatives.
A joint HSTA/DOE committee has been and will continue to be discussing and assessing the concerns of all teachers with regard to EES.
“The committee members along with a teacher advisory committee are looking at evaluation surveys to make sure the program is fair,” Okabe said.
Whether the program is too time consuming and has a diminishing return on time invested by teachers and administrators is also being examined.
Bill Arakaki, Kauai Complex Area School superintendent, responded to the Kilauea Elementary School teachers’ letter.
“I truly understand their frustration and continue to support their efforts in the understanding and implementation of the EES,” he said. “I also continue to support the administrators in their efforts to provide the professional development to ensure we are able to learn and implement this system successfully.”
• Lisa Ann Capozzi is a features/education reporter for The Garden Island and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.