Talk Story with Mitch D’Olier

November, 2007

Mitch D’Olier, president and CEO of Kaneohe Ranch and its charitable trust, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, is a former airline executive, attorney, land developer, coach and educator. He’s also a new grandfather. It’s no wonder so many people in Hawaii turn to him for advice. D’Olier sat down with Hawaii Business to talk about our education system, a key area for the Castle Foundation.

Q:You recently became a grandfather for the first time. Congratulations.

A: Thank you. Her name is Kailana. She’s 3 months old.

Q: Fast-forward to when Kailana goes to high school. What’s the best-case scenario for Hawaii’s education system in, say, 15 years?

A: The achievement gap between socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged communities will be closed. The preparation gap – where high school graduates are ready for apprenticeship programs and employment and college without remediation – will be closed. We will have matriculation from private schools to public schools. That’s what I think success looks like 15 years from now.
It’s a problem in Hawaii that we need to focus on as a community and, hopefully, the Hawaii Sustainability 2050 effort will help shine some light on the problem and help drive the solutions. Fifteen years is the right amount of time to think, “We can make changes by then.”

Q: When talking about closing the achievement gaps, you speak highly of KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program. What’s so cool about the program?

A: Achievement gaps are a problem nationwide and KIPP is one
of the programs that is starting to close the achievement gap in some of our disadvantaged communities across America. What’s interesting about KIPP is that it provides charter schools in the most disadvantaged communities. [KIPP schools] put in extra time through way longer school days, through individual attention and interaction with family members and through strong instructional leadership and practices to get achievement-gap-closing results.

Q: What will it take to bring KIPP, or a similar program, to Hawaii?

A: At a minimum, it’s studying what KIPP is doing and figuring out how KIPP is relevant to our Hawaii communities. Over time, we’ll also need a favorable environment, which means better funding of a charter school law, more charter schools allowed and funders circling around a nationally prominent program. That’s what would be needed to get KIPP here in some form.

Q: What is one of your biggest concerns about education today?

A: In Hawaii, if you don’t master algebra, cannot give a three-minute talk in front of a group of people and cannot write a 10-page paper with footnotes, your chances of having a living-wage job, that’s $55,000 or more, are almost nil. And what I just gave you are prerequisites or what somebody needs to get into a union apprenticeship program. Are we doing enough to train our population for living-wage jobs, so they can afford a house? I worry some days that not enough people in Hawaii consider that. The population at large hasn’t created demand or clamor for a high-performing public-education system.

Q: Let’s talk about the teacher shortage in Hawaii’s public schools. How critical is the shortage?

A: We already have to hire about 1,550 new teachers a year. Then there is a frightening number of principals and teachers that are eligible to retire, and if they all retire at the same time, we’ll have a gigantic problem.

Q: What are some solutions to the teacher shortage?

A: We need to have more flexibility in hiring teachers. The Hawaii Teacher Standards Board does a good job of keeping standards high for classroom teachers, but it is behind the curve in terms of bringing enough teachers in to meet the needs of our system, with high-quality teachers. This year’s legislation passed a resolution that asked the teachers standards board to look at identifying teachers licensed in other states with good records and how to
get them into our system faster. Everything we can do to give the teacher standards board more flexibility in getting great teachers and principals into our system is really important. There are many military spouses and others with great teaching and leadership skills and experience living in our community who have trouble finding their way into DOE ranks.
Another idea is to engage experienced national organizations like The New Teachers Project, which has implemented thoughtful and creative ideas and programs in other large education systems, in partnership with the Department of Education’s Office of Human Resources, to create and implement a teacher retention program. When we’ve got the shortage that’s starting to show its face, and the big shortage that’s coming, we must retain our best teachers and design an effective retention program right away.
There are a lot of great schools and people and teachers in the DOE that don’t get enough credit. We’re better at horror stories than celebration.

Q: On the flip side What’s your reaction to local feeder schools and tutors that prepare 3- and 4-year-olds for elite, private schools in Honolulu?

A: The fact that there are families bringing their children to preschools is incredibly important in early learning and socialization. The Good Beginnings Alliances and the Preschools Task Force has a lot of information for the community to take away some of the “My child has to go to this preschool” scenario. I think what’s really important is finding the right preschool for your child and characterizing a search for preschool as a right school for the right kid for the right time. And not, “My child must go to X preschool because that’s the feeder school.”

Q: Are todays’ children overscheduled with after-school activities?

A: The self-esteem of a 3-year-old is important and we all have to watch [over-taxing our children] as they go to different schools. And I do think it’s important for parents and grandparents to look at providing some unstructured free time for kids to be kids. I worry we’re taking some of the joy of that away from our children. The unstructured free time I had, I enjoyed.

Q: It sounds like Kailana will get lots of playtime with grandpa.

A: Yes, I am going to make sure Kailana has a little unstructured time.


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