When Mahina Anguay took over as principal of Waimea High School in Kauai in 2013, she knew she had to do something to help students and boost the local economy.
School enrollment had fallen 31% over the previous decade as sugar cane plantations closed and families moved in search of jobs. The region – like most of the island – depends almost entirely on tourism. Nearly 60% of the school’s 669 students come from low-income families.
Anguay found the inspiration she was looking for at an education conference in Nashville, Tennessee, which showed how schools can set up career academies to help students understand their passions, learn essential life skills and graduate with real job training. The schools had flexible hours, exciting workshops, and impacted students from all socio-economic backgrounds.
“I was like, holy smoke. We can do it,” recalls Anguay. “We should do this.”
Waimea is now what is known as a “wall-to-wall” academy, where every student must enroll in a career-oriented academy or university in order to graduate. The school relies heavily on community support for its programs. Local firefighters help teach first aid and CPR in the school’s EMS program; a parent who works at the nearby military base helps students studying cybersecurity.
“Everything that comes out of our school is really what will energize, rekindle and sustain our community,” Anguay said. “I hope we are building an army of entrepreneurs.”
Vocational training has been part of public education in Hawaii for decades, but it often takes the form of one-time electives that students can enroll in instead of, say, an art or foreign language course. . Today, a growing number of state schools are placing a new emphasis on what the Department of Education more broadly calls “vocational technical education.”
About 40% of high schools in the state now have career-focused academies. Some choose to organize their entire school into small academies or schools within a school.
The growth of CTE and academic schools is part of a big shift in education in Hawaii as school administrators increasingly grapple with how best to prepare students to enter the workforce in a state overly dependent on the tourism and struggling with an incredibly high cost of living.
“We want our students to be able to work,” said newly appointed State Superintendent Keith Hayashi. “And stay in Hawaii with paid work.”
Education advocates say now is a great time to rethink how the state prepares students for jobs outside of tourism.
The DOE is working on a new strategic plan, the State Board of Education has a new chairman, a new governor will soon be in office, and the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic provides plenty of motivation to push for new economic pillars, said David Sun-Miyashiro, executive director of the non-profit organization HawaiiKidsCan.
“It’s not just happening in the K-12 system, but a lot of it will happen,” Sun-Miyashiro said. “I think that’s why it’s such an advantageous time to reflect… are there ways to better sustain this state by focusing on other career opportunities?”
The Department of Education is in the process of revamping and significantly expanding its career path programs from six to 13, in part to create better course standards, but also to follow what other states are doing to create no just one-to-one classes, but a clear path for students interested in a particular career to follow right from college.
“What we were offering didn’t really support that,” said Troy Sueoka, DOE’s CTE education manager.
These 13 career paths – which include “business management, finance and marketing”, “health services” and “cultural arts, media and entertainment” – encompass 43 individual programs.
To determine which career paths to add, the DOE reviewed the state’s plans for sustainability and emerging industries, examining gender gaps in certain industries and working to determine what it needed to do. to support the various student populations in the state. The department launched this process in 2020.
The push to implement more career-focused curricula and create small academies in larger schools will also receive a big boost under Hayashi, who is considered a pioneer for his work in implementing an education model. academy while he was principal of Waipahu High School.
As principal, he led the staff in a long process of reimagining what the school should be and what it offered students.
Part of what Hayashi and other department leaders are talking about is a shift in redefining who their “customer” is. It’s a change that happened at Waipahu when it transitioned to an academy model, but it’s also filtered down to other schools moving to a similar program.
At first, the conversation was about the student as a customer, Hayashi said. What do students want? their diploma. But as teachers and administrators started talking about the kind of school they wanted in Waipahu, the “customer” they had in mind changed from students to employers in the community.
“Originally, it was about focusing on credits. Give kids credit for graduating. It turned into ‘What type of learning opportunities or experiences do we need to provide to students so that they are ready to enter the workforce?’ said Hayashi.
The result at Waipahu was a big shift in student and community expectations, Hayashi said.
“It has changed not only the students’ belief in what they can do, but it has changed the community,” Hayashi said, “The community expects Waipahu to continue to provide quality education. has an expectation from them, which I think is huge.
Hayashi says he’s certainly not looking to recreate the statewide Waipahu High School model.
But he wants to encourage school communities to have meaningful conversations about what they can do to prepare students to enter the workforce – whether directly with the skills they learned in high school or after going on to college or trade school.
Concerns about inequality
A big question is how schools will track and measure whether the change in public education is truly impacting the local economy and the lives of public school graduates.
Other advocates question whether the increased emphasis on career education will reduce the number of students taking electives in the arts, English and music. While others want there to be a clearer conversation about the end goals of these CTE academy programs.
Sun-Miyashiro would like to see the DOE do a more formal audit of its career programs to see what inequities might exist and whether the programs prepare all children for success. Are there any differences between who enrolls in a science or math career program and a culinary arts program?
“What is the demographic of the students? What kinds of results can we expect in different kinds of programs? Sun-Miyashiro asked.
In Waimea, Anguay and his staff worked with consultants to determine which high-skilled jobs were well-paying and in high demand. They also looked at the state’s forecast for job growth, then tried to figure out what career paths existing staff would be able to follow. The school offers programs in construction, health, engineering, graphic design, and web design, among others. Some students take early college courses and graduate from high school with a college certificate in public health.
They’ve had to streamline some of their offerings since switching to a wall-to-wall academy model a few years ago. The programs are aided by a lot of community support, but they are still looking at how to partner with more businesses in the area.
“The past was always like, you know, ‘school is school’ and ‘work is work.’ And this idea that we can merge the two and it can be fluid,” Anguay said. “It is a work in progress.”
Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.