Eric Stinton: Hawaii’s public schools are more innovative than you might think | So Good News


It’s hard to say whether Josh Reppun’s origin story is controversial or clear.

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It may seem surprising that one of Hawaii’s boldest voices for education reform didn’t earn a bachelor’s degree or start a professional career as a chef until his mid-30s. On the other hand, his journey reflects an interaction with the educational system that informs how he thinks about it today—what it is and what it might be.

“After high school, I went to college in Oregon for a year. It was a waste,” Reppun said. “I drank a lot of beer, played a lot of rugby. He didn’t read a single lick.”

He moved to California, attended culinary school, and after eight years as a chef, moved home to Hawaii, where he worked in hotel management for another four years.

“At that point, I wanted to go back and finish my undergraduate degree,” he said. “I followed a friend to the University of Iowa, was I ready to study? I went from being a high school student to a college student. Because I got a lot of motivation at the age of 34.”

Reppun graduated from Punahou 17 years later with a degree in history.

She tried a teaching certificate program and hated it, so she returned home without the necessary certification to teach at the state Department of Education. Instead, he spent the better part of the next 20 years teaching at Punahou, La Pietra and Iolani, finally retiring from the classroom in 2014.

“It was a difficult time for me,” he said. “I’m worn out. I took some time off from teaching and didn’t want to go back. Then I saw Ted Dintersmith’s The Most Likely To Succeed and it blew me out of the water. I knew immediately that I had found a vehicle in which I could participate in the transformation of education.”

The film follows High Tech High, a public charter school in San Diego, where teachers have complete control over what they teach and how they teach it. Learning is student-centered, based on collaboration, exhibition, and creative problem-solving – broadly transferable skills that are not easily automated to become obsolete.

Ted Dintersmith produced the film and took it on a 50-state tour, where he spoke to teachers, students, administrators, parents and policymakers across the country, including Reppun. Dintersmith wrote a book based on those cross-country stories, “What a School Could Be.” The final chapter focuses primarily on innovative practices in Hawaii.

“I thought about this chapter being longer,” Reppun said. “Then I came up with the idea for a podcast. If I start telling the stories of Hawaii’s educational leaders, I can extend this chapter one episode at a time.”

With Dintersmith’s blessing, Reppun launched The What School Could Be Podcast. It began by telling the stories of only Hawaiian teachers and educational leaders, but has since expanded to include national and international educators.

“Approximately 70% of the episodes involved public school teachers. I’m starting to prove that innovation comes from the bottom up,” said Reppun. “These big-dollar, top-down efforts are rarely successful. Real innovation and education comes from student-centered learning and individual teachers who work with their children’s real-world challenges, are authentic, deeply learning-oriented, and move away from standardized metrics, truly fostering caring and connected learning. communities”.

Many locals turn a blind eye to the idea of ​​quality education in Hawaii. News of underfunded facilities, journal rankings based on standardized test scores, and poor local articles have fueled the perception that Hawaii’s public schools are perpetual dark clouds hovering over the islands.

Josh Reppun believes that Hawaii’s schools have gotten a bad reputation because they are often portrayed negatively in the media. It hopes to change that image by highlighting innovation and excellence in public schools. Screenshot/

“Our media has always portrayed education in negative terms,” ​​Reppun said. “Most of the things they’re looking at are legal and very important: teacher retention, AC in classrooms, teacher pay and teacher housing.

“But the record seemed unbalanced. I realized I was on a mission to set the record straight. I wanted to get these stories out there about what these educators are doing, and people would see how great these educators are doing, how deeply they think about their practice.”

Before the pandemic, Reppun partnered with Waianae High School’s Searider Productions to produce a documentary that showed audiences what it saw and heard: passionate, creative teachers who created a dynamic learning environment that motivates kids in non-Reppun ways. Experience before going back to school at age 30.

Education reform in Hawaii is at a critical juncture, engaging with great energy in classrooms and communities, pushing for new, better ideas about teaching and learning.

Titled ‘Innovative Playlist’, the film was edited during the lockdown and released in January last year.

While in Maui, Reppun and Dintersmith were impressed by Pomaikai Elementary School, which infuses all subject areas with art.

“In the science class we observed, the topic was the periodic table,” Reppun said. “Usually it’s boring and not related to anything, but in this class they developed a theater production in which each child is an element. Through movement, song and spoken word, they were to become the element itself. Theatrical performance was an interplay of elements. It made sense.”

In another example, Reppun cites the Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike program at Hana Middle and Elementary School, which provides academic education through hands-on building projects and community engagement. The name of the program translates as “learning by doing”.

“Are these one-offs? No. Visit Molokai High School and see what Katina Soares is up to. Visit Kanoelani Elementary School, where Choose Love grows like a banyan tree and everyone treats each other with compassion and kindness. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll miss what’s really going on.”

There are a lot of exciting things happening in local classrooms and Reppun has done a great job of bringing them to the public. The next step is to find a way to take all these individual innovative practices and deploy them in more schools across the islands until the entire education system changes.

It’s an ambitious goal, and it won’t happen overnight, but Reppun is hopeful.

“All parents in Hawaii care to a great extent about all children. It gives us a way forward, so we don’t worry about fighting with each other too much,” he said. “I really hope that there are so many educators on the move who are looking for ways to connect with the community, to learn outside of the four walls, and they often bring their principals and vice principals with them, because it’s hard to resist.” type of energy. It gives me great hope.”

Education reform in Hawaii is at a critical juncture, engaging with great energy in classrooms and communities, pushing for new, better ideas about teaching and learning. We need to think about what schools can be in the future, and that starts with a clear and honest account of the current situation.

Maybe it’s better than you think.

Civil Beat’s education report is supported by a grant from the Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.


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