U.S. Education Secretary calls Hawaii’s progress ‘amazing’

Three years ago, Hawaii received $75 million in Race to the Top federal funding for education.

During his stay in Hawaii, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wanted to see if the money was well-spent. He, Gov. Abercrombie and other state officials toured Waipahu High School Monday.

That’s where senior Andrea Jurado explained her science project to him: “When I was a junior, I started off with a small project which is to synthesize, hopefully synthesize, synthetic DNA,” she said.

Jurado arrived in Hawaii four years ago from her native Philippines and, since then, has participated in internships with the University of Hawaii Cancer Research Center and the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in Livermore, Calif. She will also represent Hawaii at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles, Calif., the largest science and engineering fair for high school students from around the globe.

Principal Keith Hayashi led the tour, which included the school’s hands-on aquaponics project among others.

“It made us really focus on results,” said school superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “What you see with Keith’s work, his school is very focused on students succeeding post-secondary and he’s got a great early college program.”

At Waipahu High School alone, reading proficiency among 10th graders rose to 69 percent in 2013 from 58 percent in 2011, while math proficiency jumped to 47 percent from 26 percent. College-going rate increased to 58 percent from 49 percent during the same period.

Secretary Duncan was impressed with what was accomplished with the Race to the Top money.

“The only way you get better is to challenge the status quo,” he said. “The only way to accelerate the change is to do something different and that sounds easy, (but) that is hard to do.”

Superintendent Matayoshi said the progress that has been made over the past few years is encouraging, but acknowledged this is just the beginning.

Duncan echoed that statement. “No one’s declaring victory,” he said. “(We’ve got a) long way to go, but the progress has been extraordinary and to say that Hawaii now by any objective measure is one of the fastest improving in the nation — that’s amazing.”

Duncan says Hawaii is one of the top 10 states when it comes to public education improvement.

Jurado agrees. “The opportunities are there,” she said. “They’re always going to be there, but if you have that ‘Go get it’ spirit, then you’re going to do very, very well in the future.”

Jurado should know. She will attend Columbia University in the fall on a full scholarship.

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