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More than 1,300 Hawaii State Teachers Association members logged on to view HSTA’s first-ever State of Our Union Saturday morning, which featured streamed video reports from committee chairs and motivating remote speeches from national and state association leaders.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, who heads HSTA’s parent union with three million members, gave the keynote speech.

In an emotional address streamed live from her family’s home in Mexico, Eskelsen García told Hawaii teachers, “You are keeping the home fires burning. You are making life hopeful for all of those families that would be so fearful without you. You are giving them something meaningful to learn, to think about.”

After conducting distance learning for students with little or no prep time during the pandemic, she said, “The press is still focused on what day will we open the building. What day will school start again? And they don’t get it. We all want schools to open again. We want the building to be open again, but only when it’s safe, and we will demand the village of educators be there to welcome those kids.”

Eskelsen García said Congress needs to approve billions in funding for state and local governments in its next coronavirus aid package.

“We need them to send us the funding that will bridge us to when Hawaii opens its tourist seasons again. Because right now, you know that funding has fallen off a cliff. We have to have help from the federal government,” she added.

Eskelsen García said a school building, whether open or shut down because of the pandemic, “never was who we are. Who we are, we carry inside of us. That virus did not stop us from being who we are. We are people who love someone else’s child, and we carry that inside of us, whether we walk into a school building or a union office or march in a rally. And no one and nothing can stop us from being who we are—not a hurricane, not a tornado, not a damn virus.”

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee praised his fellow HSTA members for tireless work for both their students and communities during the pandemic.

“In Hawaii, ohana means something. We take care of each other,” Rosenlee said. “You have awed me over these past few weeks. You have reached out to our community and you have taken care of our keiki. Many of you have shared you have never worked as hard.”

HSTA Vice President Osa Tui Jr. sent “a thousand mahalos” to chapter-level leaders and the association’s Board of Directors.  

“It hasn't been an easy task coming together as one electronically from the 12 chapters covering our state. Throughout this current ordeal, these leaders have kept in touch using technology with your chapters and with each other to ensure that issues could be surfaced and addressed as we move through this,” Tui said.

“Despite the stay-at-home, work-from-home orders, you, our public school educators, have been working harder than ever to ensure that our students are provided with opportunities for learning, love, and support amid this global pandemic,” Tui added. 

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

HSTA Secretary-Treasurer Logan Okita reported on HSTA’s strong financial position.

“Our financial statements and accounting practices already comply with sound accounting standards and regulations and the auditors did not have to make recommendations on changes,” Okita said.

“I am pleased to report that our operating strength continued to improve this year as we reduced our long-term debt by paying off the mortgage for our Red Hill headquarters after less than 20 years,” she added. 

Wilbert Holck, HSTA’s executive director, thanked our network of school-level leaders, whom he called “the foundation of HSTA. Those of you who have been or currently are school-level leaders, thank you for all that you have done and are currently doing to make HSTA strong.

“Today, we have SLLs in almost every school. Our membership rate hovers near 98 percent, one of the highest in the country, and two years ago, a poll of our members showed that 88 percent approved of the work we were doing. I am sure that is even higher today,” Holck added.

Holck also praised each HSTA staff member by name for their work in service to members across the state.

HSTA Deputy Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Andrea Eshelman said while school buildings were closed during the pandemic, “we have engaged in continuous consultation and negotiations with a singular goal to keep our members and students safe… and our students learning.

“The fact that HSTA was poised and able to negotiate and move quickly to address the needs of our members reflects on both the reputation we have as collaborative problem-solvers and a willingness to stand up for ourselves and our students,” Eshelman said.

“I want to personally thank the HSTA field staff and specialists who have kept me apprised as to what is or is not happening with teachers and schools” during the last two months, she added.   

During the 90-minute State of Our Union broadcast, HSTA announced the winners of two awards. The Pono Award, which recognizes an HSTA member who is a passionate social justice advocate, went to Ilima Intermediate STEM teacher Sarah “Mili” Milianta-Laffin

HSTA’s Friend of Youth Award recognizes an individual, member, or non-member, who goes beyond their professional duties to demonstrate a significant impact on Hawaii's youth. This year’s winner, also announced Saturday, is Scot Yamashita of Aiea, who has been volunteering as an AYSO soccer coach for 14 years.

The State of Our Union, held as a webinar on the Zoom platform, was open to any active HSTA member who registered ahead of time.

It included reports by the chairs of HSTA’s various committees about activities and accomplishments over this school year and updates about the future. You can view select reports online here:

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