As my time with the State Public Charter School Commission has come to an end, I thank all of YOU, our stakeholders, for helping and working with me to improve the system for public charter schools over the last eight years. As I think back on my time at the Commission, I am proud of the work, the Commission staff, Commissioners, and our schools for all of the progress and improvements made to our public charter schools and their contributions to the public Pre-K through 12 education system. Accountability for state funds is our collective responsibility but I do believe we can do that all the while being supportive of different ways of driving student achievement.

From my beginning days as the Organizational Performance Manager, Chief Operations Officer, Interim Executive Director, Deputy Director, and finally as Interim Executive Director, I have seen the transition from the second generation of our charter contract to now our fourth generation of our charter contract—one that meets the requirement of state accountability while at the same time, provides the acknowledgement and recognition of the unique missions, visions, initiatives and impacts on students that each of our public charter schools work so hard to demonstrate. All of these mission and vision driven initiatives by each of our public charter schools are done with the intention of impacting our students and driving their learning and improvement in student outcomes. This is a goal that we ALL endeavor to achieve. I thank our current and past Commissioners, as well as ALL Commission staff, for working tirelessly to engage our community of schools to arrive at this fourth generation of our charter contract that I believe will begin the transformation of our public charter school system into one that will be recognized for its innovative work and for the impacts it makes on our public charter school students.

To Jannelle Watson, our amazing Executive Assistant, thank you for all of your organizational and technical expertise and for keeping all of us on track and on time. In addition to keeping track of the Commission’s agenda and minutes, her work on improving technology and organizing data has been invaluable to moving the work of the Commission - our strategic plan work - forward.

To our Framework Team and our Federal Programs Team thank you so much for your hard work, in working together to build a system that helps our schools better understand the performance expectations of their charter contract, and for assisting them in understanding how they can access and utilize the financial support they need to improve their schools by identifying the root causes of their student’s academic struggles and to more strategically target the supports needed to impact student achievement. The work of both teams lead the way in demonstrating the system the Commission office has established, and the revised strategic plan will drive the continuous cycle of improvement that we expect from it.

To our Fiscal and Operations team, keep up the amazing work you do to make it all function and work. Danny Vasconcellos and his team work tirelessly to “jimmy-rig” the system to make our square peg fit into the round hole of state government—one that is not always kind to our charter way of operating.

To our Services and Communications Team, thank you for being there to direct traffic and information to and for our schools that need to function squarely in the round cog of state government, and for helping to communicate out the wonderful work that our public charter schools are doing to impact and grow our public charter school students. I look forward to our public charter schools continuing to share their unique missions and visions AND especially their impact on the students they serve.

I am proud of the work the Commission’s Early Learning Team has done over the last eight years, and thank former Governor Abercrombie for giving our public charter schools his support to start our charter school pre-k program by applying for and receiving the only federal pre-K grant awarded to charter schools. This commitment was then supported by our state legislature to fund our 18 classrooms after the conclusion of the federal grant. I am grateful also to Governor Green and especially to Lieutenant Governor Luke for her strong support of our charter pre-K schools and for her work in expanding the reach of our charter pre-ks across the state.

Under the leadership of Early Learning Program Director Deanne Goya, we were able to fund the Thinking Classroom, a professional development project with charter schools to create a strong pre-K to grade 3 charter school network that is grounded in high-quality instruction and thinking practices. The Thinking Classroom is based on the work from Harvard’s Project Zero which has pioneered research that examines key facets of human potential such as intelligence, creativity, thinking and understanding. While grounded in our early learning program, the Thinking Classroom was open to all public charter schools. Over the last three years, our early learning team and our participating charter schools have worked diligently to add a Hawai`i focus to the visible thinking and learning moves that make up the core of this project. I hope you will continue to use the Thinking Classroom to drive improvements in the teaching and thinking happening in your classrooms.

To PJ, my deputy for these last three years, thank you for always being there for me and especially being there for our schools. Your experience as a school leader and your capacity to listen and to troubleshoot is always welcome and appreciated. I know you and the Commission will continue to move forward and work towards achieving high quality schools.

While I will continue to work in the field of education, I look forward to the future where more and more of our public charter schools will share their great work with the public. The Commission’s revised strategic plan provides for a continuous cycle of improvement that drives towards identifying high quality charter schools, sharing out the learnings from our schools, as well as their academic innovations with the broader education community—one of the original reasons for the creation of public charter schools.

During my time with the Commission, it has been my duty to be the voice for the system of public charter schools, and I am proud to have helped to articulate the challenges that our public charter school system has endured: funding for Hard-to-Staff areas and National Board Certified Teachers; Title IX and Civil Rights compliance training and support; access to Public Health Nurses, and the establishment of a Keiki Nurse Program for our public charter schools, safety training and active shooter training and support for our public charter schools, among so many other issues.

I hope that I have laid the foundation for public charter schools to truly be a part of a public school system that should not be the forgotten step child. I hope the day will come soon where charter schools are always included in foundational support for public schools, after all, we are a one SEA/LEA state, and that means our state leaders must have a mindset that needs to start with the inclusion of the minority, not forgetting and ending with the “oh I forgot” mindset. But this also requires all of us in the public charter school system to be good stewards and partners in public education.

I think we have made tremendous progress and I look forward to seeing the success that is yet to come.

Mahalo nui,

Yvonne Lau