UH’s Dobelle: For the first time, state has more imported teachers

KALAPAKI BEACH – The 2001-02 school year marked the first time ever in the Hawai’i public school system when there were more Mainland-born than Hawai’i-born teachers in classrooms, said the president of the University of Hawaii.

Dr. Evan Dobelle, who became the twelth UH president around a year ago and immediately proposed an integrated public education system from preschool to grad school, is still stressing the need for “an absolute partnership” for a total public education system second to none if the state is to ever compete effectively in the global marketplace.

“I can’t imagine a good University of Hawaii without a good public education system,” said Dobelle, adding that his work is not as important as the preschool teacher who is underpaid, undereducated and overworked.

Speaking at the annual meeting of Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i, Inc. at the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club, Dobelle said he envisions the day when four-year tuition waivers are granted to those studying education at UH, in return for a commitment to spend at least four years of teaching in the public schools of the state.

“We have to start growing our own teachers, and we have to be smarter about keeping Hawai’i students in Hawai’i,” he said.

Toward those ends, Dobelle in October plans to convene a “white-paper summit” with details about a seamless public education system that starts from preschool and extends to the end of medical school.

Then, in November, the UH Board of Regents will hear of Dobelle’s plans to re-organize all 10 UH campuses.

That includes Kaua’i Community College, which within the next few years will probably come to be called the University of Hawai’i at Kaua’i.

The academic makeup of the Puhi campus will depend largely on community wishes and the leadership of Peggy Cha, who is now provost but will be offered the new leadership position of chancellor during reorganizational matters, Dobelle said.

Cha would not say whether or not she would accept the chancellor position, whom Dobelle said would report immediately to the university president.

Dobelle said the addition of dormitories for off-island students is still on his Kaua’i idea list, as are expanding the nursing curriculum and installing or upgrading agriculture and business courses so that would-be farmers can be successful not only in growing crops but in becoming proficient agribusiness people.

A teacher certification program on this island would help his vision of establishment of cores of teachers on each island, so shortages wouldn’t be chronic or require off-island recruiting, he said.

And if the visitor industry will remain the major driver of the island’s economy, some travel industry management coursework seems appropriate here, too, he continued. UH-Kaua’i could be a worldwide leader in ecotourism training, said Dobelle, 57.

The presence of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility and a blossoming public and private high-tech economy make UH-Kaua’i a logical spot for high-technology training opportunities, too, he added.

It is frustrating both for Dobelle and Cha to not be able to get things improved fast enough, when they both know what needs to be done, who can get it done and how to get it done, but are handcuffed by financial limitations.

For Cha the “doer,” it’s particularly aggravating, said Dobelle, especially since campuses are in place across the state to deliver needed instruction.

And Dobelle is keenly aware of the current need for many students to transfer or commute after completing two-year degrees at KCC.

“I think distance learning has the potential to be excellent,” but is not yet to the point where it can replace a teacher in a classroom, Dobelle said.

But information he has gathered confirms his idea that people are using two-year, associate’s degrees as stepping stones to “four-year degrees that will change their lives.”

That data shows that the UH system has seen a growth of 29 percent in the number of awarded associate’s degrees over the last 10 years, and an increase of 22 percent in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded.

The greatest growth in two-year degrees is in liberal arts, signaling to Dobelle that people are using two-year degrees as stepping stones toward bachelor’s and advanced degrees.

Dobelle, who didn’t graduate from college until he was 38, has degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Harvard, and is a tenured professor in urban and regional planning at UH-Manoa.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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