New School Year Marked by New Teacher Leadership Growth in Hawai’i

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015


“I have seen my colleagues change from seeing themselves as simple classroom teachers to becoming advocates for the entire state educational system.”

These words were spoken by Ruth Ballinger, a fifteen-year veteran Special Education Resource Teacher from Kula, Maui, who welcomes this August as the start of her second school year as a Hope Street Group Hawai‘i State Teacher Fellow.

Hope Street Group is an independent non-profit organization that works closely in partnership with the Hawai‘i Department of Education (HIDOE) and the Hawai‘i Teachers Association (HSTA) to provide a group of diverse public school teachers, who are chosen from a rigorous selection process, with skills around peer and community engagement, facilitating focus groups, and communication strategies while giving them opportunities to amplify teacher voice to inform policy decisions. Hope Street Group launched the program with great success in Kentucky in 2013, replicating in Hawai’i in 2014 and then in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Last year, in a state-wide data collection in collaboration with the HIDOE and HSTA, fellows sought teacher input around the implementation of the Hawai‘i Common Core Standards through conducting surveys and focus groups. Hawai‘i State Teacher Fellows (STFs) led 51 focus groups of their peers across the state. Survey responses numbered in the thousands and, ultimately, the 17 STFs engaged a total of 12% of all the teachers across the islands of Hawai‘i. The findings were turned into actionable recommendations to further support teachers with Hawai‘i Common Core implementation that the HIDOE has committed to act upon.

“Incorporating teacher voices into the Department decision making process is an important and valuable step,” said Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “We look forward to continued engagement with the Hope Street Group Teacher Fellows and appreciate the commitment and support of our partners in this effort.”

Reflecting on a conversation with STF Jonathan Gillentine, Wilbert Holck, HSTA Executive Director, said, “[He] recently shared with me that ‘the most significant benefit I have found within the Fellowship is in being part of a team effort to address ways to improve teaching and learning in our public schools. Having a voice within a group of like-minded teachers is empowering and supports my growth as a teacher leader.’ We want our HSTA members to continue to lead the profession, and we will continue to support programs that empower teacher voice.”

The work of the first cohort of Hawai‘i STFs has led to their establishment as teacher leaders and advocates for their profession. In addition to providing recommendations to HIDOE, they have met with legislators and hosted school visits, and have independently written op-eds and essays that have been published in news outlets across the state and nation. The way these STFs have contributed to the state’s education policy decisions was a major reason Kareem Farah, a high school math teacher teaching on the Wai‘anae coast of O‘ahu, decided to apply to join the program.

“Through first hand experience, teachers and administrators have developed a plethora of evidence-based strategies to improve our schools,” Farah reflected. “By increasing teacher engagement, we will ensure that those responsible for educating our children have a say in major education policy decisions.”

Farah, one of six new teachers that are joining Hope Street Group’s Hawai‘i STF program this year, belongs to a burgeoning teacher leadership movement within Hawai’i. Other groups and programs such as the Teacher Leadership Initiative and Hawai‘i’s National Board Certified Teachers are also cultivating teacher leaders to support and strengthen the profession to better serve kids. This movement is evident up to the federal level, where the U.S. Department of Education has emphasized empowering teachers to improve the education process through its Teach to Lead program, a partnership with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

“During their first year, the fellows have shown tremendous leadership and courage,” remarked Hawai‘i State Teacher Fellows Program Director Kelly Miyamura. “In collaboration with their colleagues and our partners, they will continue to work towards informing decisions and developing solutions to strengthen education for the children of Hawai‘i.”

Hope Street Group is a national organization that works to ensure every American will have access to tools and options leading to economic opportunity and prosperity. For more information, visit:


%d bloggers like this: