Helping Good Teachers Stay in Hawaii

By Sharon Kearney

This past fall, a newly hired teacher at my school had to take another personal day. He needed the time to complete the final walkthrough on the place he was vacating. Before the end of the first quarter of the school year, he had already moved five times.

Throughout the United States, the combined expenditures by school districts for teacher recruitment and retention was 2.2 billion dollars in 2016 (1). I do not know how much of that amount was spent by the Hawaii Department of Education, but I do know their efforts were newsworthy. I received phone calls from friends and family living in various mainland locations every time the Hawaii recruiting efforts were a sound bite on the local evening program.

The Learning Policy Institute has postulated that if the 8% U.S. teacher attrition rate was reduced to a rate of 4% (which is the rate found in other highly educated countries), the current U.S. teacher shortage would end (1).

What would it take to end the teacher shortage in Hawaii? I believe if Hawaii developed the resources to provide housing options for teachers, both new hires and tenured teachers, recruitment and retention would be addressed, and attrition would be reduced. Other school districts are coming to the same conclusion.

“If you build it, they will come.”  Newark, New Jersey did build, and they are coming. Not to a baseball diamond, but to the Teachers Village redevelopment project (1). Four blocks in size, the buildings are a showpiece of mixed use with space for a day care center, retail units, three separate charter schools, and residences with new hire and local neighborhood school teachers occupying 70% of the units. The resident teachers will have natural opportunities to build their own social community where they can share ideas and learn from each other. Funding for the project came from a blend of public and private social-impact investors.

Chicago, Illinois is also willing to build. Using the Newark model, the Humboldt Park Teacher’s Village will be a renovated mixed use structure (2). Plans include a market area with communal seating, retail space, classroom space for community enrichment classes, and resident space a mixture of apartments and townhomes.

The school district in Washington D.C. has purchased the campus of a former Catholic College with plans to convert some of the buildings into housing for local teachers, and to provide a charter school site (1).

The school district in Denver, Colorado surveyed teachers who left the district at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. 10.5% cited the high cost of living as a big factor in their decision to leave (3).

Other states and school districts have chosen to provide teachers with housing subsidies (2), down payment grants , and low, fixed rate home loans (3).

Whether any of these models will work in Hawaii remains to be seen. Numerous conversations at the complex, district, and state levels need to occur. Data needs to be collected. Surveys can be sent to teachers on each island. I think the talking needs to start now so that we can move beyond words to real action.


1. 09/12/17. Patrick Sission. Downloaded 08/24/2018

2. 06/05/17. Kimberly Manning, Downloaded 08/24/2018

3. 12/20/16. Ann Schmike, Downloaded 08/24/2018


Sharon Kearney is the Special Education Department Head at Maui High School within the Baldwin/Kekaulike/Maui Complex where she oversees students in grades 9-12 for Diploma and up to age 22 for Certificate of Completion. Sharon has been at Maui High for 9 years. She has participated as a member of the MHS Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment team, as a MHS WASC Focus Group Leader, and as a WASC Visitation Team member. Extracurricular activities have included being a Special Education Advisor to the MHS Best Buddies Chapter. Sharon has degrees from both California Lutheran University and University of California, Santa Barbara.