I just returned from an all-day conference on Hawaii's public education system.  The symposium, called the 2016 Hawaii Education Summit, was hosted by Governor David Y. Ige's office.  It was open to any stakeholder in public education.

I'd like to start off with a heartfelt mahalo to the Governor, the First Lady and the office staff.  Putting together an event of this size in just a few months is phenomenal for anyone.  It's nearly unprecedented in government.

As for the event itself, it was well-organized and quite well attended with 1,000 participants.  Material was pertinent and informative.  Best of all, everyone -- including parents and students -- had the opportunity to provide direct feedback to the Administration.

 The program opened in the grand hall with everyone in one room.  Jade Raquel, a junior from McKinley High School emceed.  Kathryn Matayoshi made a few remarks, followed by Board of Education newcomer and chair, Lance Mizumoto.  Thereafter, a staffer of Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander presented facts on Senator Alexander,

Following a lengthy introduction, a taped statement from Senator Lamar Alexander played.  In it, Senator Alexander explained in good, understandable detail, what the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is about.  I will say I was impressed.  Senator Alexander's digital presence also signified the bipartisan nature of this act.  To say the least, anything getting through the U.S. Legislature is nothing short of a miracle; to have both sides agree that it is important enough for differences to be put aside is astounding.  As if to underscore the point, the video of Senator Alexander received the loudest clapping of the event.  I sure hope the Senator can hear it from Nashville.

Governor David Ige then made an appearance and thanked the nineteen Hawaii ESSA committee members that have been working tirelessly since April to make this conference a reality.  

Ige's short appearance was followed by a much longer session by Ken Kay, education consultant from EdLeader21.  Mr. Kay's presentation went seemingly quickly as an engaging and relevant speaker.  Key takeaways were : (1) It was easier to manage schools in the 1950s, as goals were more static than they are today. (2) Teaching student self-management is the key to education in the 21st Century. 

As an example, Kay cited an Apple manager, "If someone needs to be managed, they're no longer employable."  Furthering the theme of collaboration and peer learning, Kay pointed to the example of Austin's Butterfly.  For more on Kay's thoughts, follow him on Twitter at @KenKay21.

Ken Kay was followed by Lee Posey from the National Conference of State Legislatures, a group that lobbies on behalf of states' interests.

After the General Keynote session,  participants selected among sixteen breakout sessions for two timeslots.  I had a hard time picking just two from 16, so went with the idea that I would pick the most unfiltered of the offerings: the one where the speakers had the fewest ties to power and the status quo.  In the end I had to forego offerings by the HSTA and DOE in favor of selections by a parent advocacy group called Parents for Public Schools of Hawaii and a forum of public school students entitled, "Student Voice: Looking Beyond the Mirror."

I will offer my more detailed thoughts on both of these sessions in another post, but for now, I'll just say that I left both better informed than when when I came.  I also left with a sense of satisfaction knowing that a variety of voices are being heard at the right levels where change has a chance to happen.

Next on the agenda was a half-hour lunch.  I wondered how all 1,000 of us would be able to have lunch that quickly and return for the feedback sessions scheduled.  As it turned out, they fed us a complete lunch, everything from fruit, chips, sandwich and a cookie.  Better than United Airlines for sure.

Here's what impressed me about the afternoon session that followed.  The featured voices at the afternoon session were ours.  

We were each given a room number and a mission.  We were to collaborate with other participants and address eight different design ideas and provide direct feedback.  As it turned out, my group consisted of a school principal, the President of Parents for Public Schools of Hawaii, a retired special education teacher, and another parent like myself.  If this doesn't represent a well-balanced cross section of stakeholders, I don't know what could.

All in all, I am highly encouraged by the long strides made in public education by the Ige Administration.  This summit represented exactly what Hawaii and the taxpayers need: A voice, collaboration and accountability.