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Superintendent answers questions about possible cuts, HIDOE budget, summer school, and more

She also talked about how the HIDOE will use federal COVID-19 relief funds in schools, and how school might look in the fall

Here is a partial transcript of reporters' questions and answers provided by Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) Superintendent Christina Kishimoto at a news conference in the governor's office on Friday, April 17. Reporters' questions are in bold, followed by Kishimoto's answers, both of which have been edited for clarity.

Earlier this week, the governor proposed a potential 20-percent pay cut for teachers. What is your reaction to this proposal, and what do you plan to do to ensure that Hawaii doesn’t lose any more teachers in case furloughs or payouts are instituted?

Right now I’m waiting for the specific guidance from (the) Budget and Finance (department) as the governor works with his team to provide that guidance. We did receive the heads up that we’ll have to look at our finances for next year. We know the entire state is being impacted in terms of the severe drop in revenues coming in, and so we’re part of the team that’s going to be looking at our finances.

From the moment we closed schools and our school buildings and went into continuity of learning, we also went into aggressive budget tracking. So we have been ensuring that we limit our expenditures from early March and I’ll continue to track the savings. Our intention was to be able to roll over the savings from this year into next year.

We’ll have a bulk of savings from this year, especially because we haven’t needed to bring in a number of substitute teachers, we haven’t been expending dollars on materials, we’ve had our schools shut down. We’ve been looking at subscriptions and canceling subscriptions that weren’t absolutely needed. So we have been saving for over a month, and now almost two months.

And in addition to that, I did put together a financial planning team that consists of three complex-area superintendents, a principal, a teacher, a financial expert from my team, and an entitlement grant expert. We will continue to do planning as we receive guidance.

The notice I gave to my principals and my complex-area superintendents is that they needed to be very careful about their spending and that there would be a lift of the cap of carryover funds so that we could maximize those savings.

How do you plan to use the CARES Act funds provided by the federal government? You mentioned tablets but what else and how much has the DOE saved via substitute teachers and other budget surpluses?

We’re pulling our financial report together now and I’ll be sharing that with my Board of Education. At that point that will become a document we can share with the public.

In terms of the CARES Act, there are about $43 million are going to be coming into the DOE for K–12, and so we are really prioritizing, ensuring that we can cover this extended and expanded summer school opportunity, that how we can address the equity of access gap in terms of internet and technology and internet services. In fact, today I reached out, had a conversation with Hawaiian Telcom and Spectrum/Charter to talk about the challenge of equity of access and how they can work with me and ensuring that. So that’s another area we’ll be looking at. I will be looking at parent and teacher training continuing around how do you do distance learning. So these are areas we’re going to focus on and depending on some of the response and interest I get from some of the folks on the internship side for seniors, I do want to carve out some money to provide paid internships for students who are trying to finish up their CTE work in order to carry that credit into college.

Some states have implemented a no-fail policy at their public schools for the time that distance learning is happening. Would HIDOE consider doing the same thing and are honor classes and AP classes still letter-graded?

At the end of third quarter, students are receiving a grade for the year. During fourth quarter, if students are not passing a class, or not passing their requirements in order to promote or graduate, teachers are working with students in order for them to complete additional projects, do some distance learning activities, do some additional, whether it’s written papers and so forth, in order to bring up their grades in order to support students so they can promote.

We’re not saying that no student is failing. This is not about pass or fail, this is about how do we ensure that we have students who are able to promote. That’s really the focus. And how do we get our 11,000 students graduated with the additional supports and transitions.

The academic team at UH is working in partnership with us, so that students who are transitioning into college who have missed some content, the content they need to get those upper-level courses at the university level, that they get those transition supports as they go to the university level. So we’re looking at what do we provide, what does the university provide.

What are you doing specifically to track those students who are unable to log or even access paper packets? While schools have been asked to track that information on a case-by-case basis, what will HIDOE central administration do to assist those schools in reaching those hard-to-reach kids?

I actually meet with my leadership team at the complex level. We have a leadership team meeting of assistant superintendents and complex-area superintendents and myself either once or twice a day. So we are constantly talking about what supports do complexes need as they work with their principals and then we bring principals into some of those decision-making team meetings as well, using e-conferencing approaches—and so we’re on a daily basis talking about what’s needed at the school level and making adjustments as necessary.

At the same, we’re staying out of their way so that principals can lead with their teacher teams. We have teacher teams that are organizing among themselves as well and providing support to one another. So we’re going to continue in that format.

For students that have not been contacted because the student or the family have not been responding, there’s a variety of actions that have been taken, including some confidential services, some door-knocking, some outreach. We have a number of partners who are nonprofits who we have agreements with who are doing some of that outreach as well, but we’re tracking those students so that we can also make sure we reach every student.

What are solid plans for summer school? Will that be online as well?

It absolutely will. So we are focusing on secondary schools from sixth, seventh on through our 11th-grader and 12th-graders who may need to finish up credits. That will be through distance learning online. It will be a combination of credit recovery opportunities and we are going to be waiving costs to families for credit recovery during to support students during this time period and using CARES Act funding to cover that cost.

The other opportunity is students can sign up for e-courses which allow them to get ahead with credits, and the University of Hawaii is working with us as well to provide college credit courses this summer as well.

For the lower grades, we are still planning for them because we want to make sure that our young students, especially students in grades one, two, and three are at or above reading grade level. So we will be making some adjustments for them and planning for them.

If schools do re-open this fall, how different could the structure look? For instance, are you looking at staggered school start times, potential school closures for those with low enrollment? When do you plan to make that call on a re-open date and based on what guidance?

Our focus has been to get through the school year, to get through May 28 and to stand up our summer school, which will occur during the months of June and July. We have an expanded summer school, as I mentioned earlier. So that’s where our area of focus is. We want to make sure that our seniors are able to promote and graduate on time or have the extended learning during the summer to do so.

We are already having conversations about different models for reopening. There are a lot of things to consider. How services are stood up again, whether we stagger grades of students, or numbers of students into a school building? What does transportation look like?

We need to wait a little further until we see what’s happening in the beginning part of the summer months before we get too far into planning. I’m also part of a national network of all 50 state superintendents including the superintendents of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico. We meet periodically. In fact, we meet very often to share ideas around reopening of school and what has to happen.

It’s not just about whether social distancing has to continue. It’s ensuring that students have a good transition back into school.

Now that we are going to remain closed through May 28, we have about 46, 47 days in which students have not been in traditional instruction, plus going into extended learning in the summer using technology. That’s going to mean two to three, three and a half months before students are back into a traditional school setting. So the transition back in terms of healthy school climate, readiness to re-engage in that traditional school format is part of all of that consideration.

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Author: Keoki Kerr
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