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HSTA: Principals Forced to Hire Non-speakers for Hawaiian Immersion Positions Amid Teacher Shortage

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The Hawaiʻi State Teacher Association is urging for the expansion of Ka Papahana Kaiapuni, the Hawaiian language immersion program.

According to the organization in a news release, about 43 percent of Hawaiian immersion teachers do not speak Hawaiian.

The organization called the lack of qualified Hawaiian immersion candidates “another shortcoming that adds to Hawaiʻiʻs teacher shortage crisis.”

Kaui Spitalsky, who started the Hawaiian language immersion program at Lahainaluna High School four years ago, said one of the biggest challenges of being a kaiapuni teacher is the absence of a set curriculum.

“In the past three years, I’ve taught every single subject except for math, last year, three grade levels, all in Hawaiian language, so you can imagine trying to integrate cultural knowledge with standard-based curriculum to the individual child in Hawaiian language,” Spitalsky said in the release.


“There’s no curriculum out there. So I struggled, and that struggle is an everyday struggle for all of our kaiapuni teachers.”


Some educators say incentives could help attract more immersion teachers.

A state Board of Education policy on the program states that immersion teachers should be “appropriately compensated” for the “additional qualifications” of receiving certification as an instructor in both English and Hawaiian.

But immersion teachers are not offered any bonuses or differentials.


Meanwhile, dual-language educators in California are paid bonuses of up to $10,000 annually.

“Under the state constitution, Hawaiian is one of our two official languages, and as a recent Supreme Court decision pointed out, our children must have access to learn in one of those two languages, and right now in light of that Supreme Court ruling, we’re not providing that (in some cases),” HSTA president Corey Rosenlee added in the release.

The HSTA has pushed for a new bachelor of education in Hawaiian immersion degree, which the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa will offer beginning in 2021.

According to the HSTA, the new degree could “help increase the pool of qualified immersion teachers.”

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