A Sea-Change in Education—Views from the Mid-Pacific

Engaging community to transform your district as you go digital
Deborah Bond-Upson

Shakespeare coined the term “sea-change” to mean “a profound or notable transformation.”  For technology, John Gage of Sun Microsystems used the term to announce the rapid movement to distributed computing, now experienced by us as “the cloud.”  For education, we took a detour. As connectivity hit ubiquity and media proliferated, instead of a sea-change transformation to individualized, future-focused learning, we detoured, using technology, students’ time, and classroom focus on testing.

Over-testing, hoping to support fairness by measuring success, ultimately undermined success. With teachers marginalized, education results suffered and parents, students, and voters balked.  Finally, Governors and Congress, tired of No Child Left Behind and federal dictates, united to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA.) Dubbed the “Christmas Miracle” when Obama signed it in late December 2015, ESSA may be an important wave finally in getting that sea-change in education.

As you know, ESSA promotes state’s authority, gives more student assessment flexibility and removes unpopular teacher evaluation requirements. But the most powerful force in the gathering change in education we eagerly await, may come from ESSA’s thrust to engage communities in envisioning education for the future.

“Hawaii has been the most effective state in convening the community
to explore the potential of ESSA to transform education.”

-Steven Parker, Legislative Director, National Governors Association, 2016 Hawaii Education Summit

Hawaii Surfs the ESSA Wave

Hawaii has serious education problems. It has the worst rate of teacher turnover and the highest percentage of students in private schools, undercutting the public education system. Another singular attribute is that Hawaii is the only state that is one district, enabling a potential nimbleness in ESSA implementation.

Fortuitously, in the fall of 2015, the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) began a massive effort to  “give the keiki (children) the education they deserve,” bringing 10 important goals to the public. While the legislature did not pass the bill, they did fund one initiative (school air conditioning) and the BOE accepted another (removal of student test score linkage to teacher evaluation). Further, this campaign paved the way for community attention to ESSA and an enriched view of the future of education in Hawaii.

Since its founding six years ago I have served on the board of  Parents for Public Schools-Hawaii (PPS-HI.) In addition to school and parental support programs, through our 1000 Voices campaign, we gather and relay parent views to state leaders, legislators and the community. The most common praise for schools is “we love our teachers” and the most common complaint is “too much testing.”

The Education Institute Hawaii (EIH) was formed in 2014 by active and retired Hawaii principals and area superintendents to research and promote school empowerment. The 2nd annual conference in January 2016 came on the heels of the signing of ESSA. The conference brought Finland’s Pasi Sahlberg in to meet with educators and community members.

Governor Ige established an ESSA Task Force to create the Hawaii Blueprint for Education. The Task Force began a series of meetings with community groups and educators, and convened a Governor’s Summit on Education with over 1000 attendees.

The Department of Education (HI DOE) embarked on refreshing its Strategic Plan, reaching out for community input, surveying and holding focus groups. The Strategic Plan calls for supporting education over the next few years while the Blueprint is to guide education for the next couple of decades.

In this ESSA wave, I have led a Parents for Public Schools annual meeting focus group, two church services on teachers and digital transformation, two workshops, convened The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii Open Table panel discussion, testified to the Governor’s Task Force and co-led a workshop at the Hawaii Education Summit. Lately I’ve been publicizing the ongoing town hall meetings by the BOE/DOE and the Governor’s ESSA Team. The purpose of all this activity is to engage our community in rethinking education.

Our one-district-state community is uncommonly alert to the education sea-change, of which ESSA is a big wave. Hawaii may transcend tests and one-size-fits-all education, using today’s connectivity, devices, and applications, stories and rich learning media, including Open Education Resources (OERs). The state may increase assessment based on student work, empowering teachers and preparing students for their future. As key evaluators of learning, teachers will gain respect. With ESSA flexibility, Hawaii may transform education, to give the “whole child” a thirst for lifelong learning.

Wave to STREAM, Elements of the Sea-Change

The potential for education change drives my volunteer and professional work in Hawaii. All of my non-profit and for-profit education innovation work has been to support each individual learner to use their gifts and gain satisfaction from becoming valued participants in the community. One key digital transition tool that I’ve continued to champion is the AwesomeStories archive developed by trial attorney, Carole Bos. It has served teachers and librarians since 1999.

Drawing on over 30 years in assessment, learning media, teacher professional development and blended learning, I have led a team to develop MakerSpace for the HumanitiesTM within the AwesomeStories platform. This MakerSpace does for the humanities what STEM MakerSpace has done for Science Technology Engineering and Math. We don’t just need “maker thinking” for “STEM”--or “STEAM” the extension to include the arts. We need to support Research, Reading, Reflection and wRiting-- added to “STEAM” -- hence “STR4EAM.”

Students learn to build knowledge in the humanities, researching in the easy-to-search AwesomeStories archive or in over 100 linked world-renowned archives. Finding the stories and primary sources in the archive, deep reading and reflecting, discerning the truth, and crafting their work in writing and media ensues. Research, critical evaluation, writing and collaboration activities satisfy state standards while also enabling students to “go deep” in exploring their own interests. 


Deborah has over 30 years experience in assessment, learning media, teacher professional development and blended learning. She is the Chief Education Officer at Awesome Stories and CEO of Learning Bond, LLC.