Trouble in Paradise

By Kimberly Sawatka
The state of Hawaii brings to mind an abundance of sunshine, sand and surf. It doesn’t evoke thoughts of high teacher turnover rates and failing students. However, that is exactly what is happening in paradise – specifically on the Leeward Coast of the Hawaiian island of O’ahu.
The little community of Wai’anae is struggling to find and keep qualified teachers. Some of the school administrators end up teaching classes until teachers can be hired to fill the open positions, while still trying to complete their administrative duties.
Hawaii has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the country. It boasts of the largest starting salaries for teachers, but the high cost of living still deters many from wanting to live on the island, especially a somewhat secluded community like Wai’anae.
The state is pouring as much as they can into resources to recruit new teachers from other states and small communities, in hopes that teachers will remain more than a couple of years. One high school has launched a program to foster the desire to learn more about being a teacher in hopes of creating future teachers right at home.
The state only fills about one third of its teaching vacancies from local applicants. Roughly fifty percent of teachers are leaving the state’s school system within the first five years at their post.
Unfortunately, the ones who suffer the most from this turnover are the students. Hawaii’s students are scoring lower than the country’s average in math, science, reading and writing.
After multiple news stories about the teacher shortage in Hawaii, the state’s department of education has been flooded with applications. However, most vying for one of the 1,600 vacant positions are not qualified teachers or from this country. So the drought still continues and students remain in a state of emergency.
 

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