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Lahaina teacher Justin Hughey seeks statewide union post

By Staff | Apr 23, 2015

Justin Hughey, 38, a King Kamehameha III Elementary School special education teacher, is a candidate for vice president of the HSTA, a statewide labor organization representing more than 13,500 Hawaii public school teachers.

LAHAINA – Lahaina teacher Justin Hughey, 38, is a candidate for vice president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), a labor organization with over 13,500 members statewide. His candidacy is part of a slate known as “Hawaii Teachers for Change” challenging the incumbent officers.

The King Kamehameha III special education teacher, who has worked at the Lahaina school since 2005, holds a master’s degree in his field. He is HSTA’s Maui Chapter vice president and the chairperson of Hawaii’s Democratic Party Education Caucus. He has written and guided numerous resolutions through passage at conventions of the state Democratic Party, National Education Association, and HSTA.

His efforts have called attention to dangerous classroom conditions, special education staffing issues and instances of discriminatory practices by the state Department of Education.

Hughey is part of a three-member slate, including Corey Rosenlee (Oahu) running for union president and Dr. Amy Perruso (Oahu), who seeks the post of secretary-treasurer.

In a news release announcing their candidacy, Rosenlee said, “This is an election about change. Teachers in Hawaii can no longer be the worst paid in the nation, teaching in 100-degree classrooms, and have their pay and jobs tied to a failed evaluation system.”

Hughey said his own difficulty in learning to read as a child was a factor in deciding to become an educator: “I’m dyslexic and decided to go into teaching so I could help kids like myself. I thought that would be a great profession to wake up to everyday.”

But the reality he found in Hawaii turned out to be far different from what he had expected.

While there are numerous goals stated in the group’s platform, two of the main points are fair pay for Hawaii’s teachers and elimination of a newly established teacher evaluation system, which Hughey and others feel is badly flawed.

On the pay issue, Hughey said that even with an advanced degree, his take home pay is “$1,479 every two weeks after taxes.” He works a part-time job as a waiter at Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Kapalua to make ends meet.

“When the cost of living in Hawaii is factored in, Hawaii’s teachers are the worst paid in the nation,” he said.

The slate also proposes to eliminate the “Educator Effectiveness System” (EES), a recently instituted method to evaluate Hawaii’s teachers.

“EES was sold to us on the fact that we had a seat at the table, ensuring HSTA will have the ability to work side-by-side with the employer crafting a responsible evaluation system,” Hughey said. The contractual language to ensure this states, “personal evaluations must be fair, transparent, equitable and comprehensive.”

“How can it be fair when the December Joint Committee report shows vast discrepancy in highly effective classroom and non-classroom teachers? How can it be transparent if we cannot view the state assessment? How can it comprehensive when you have to put on a dog-and-pony show in one 45-minute observation over the entire school year? How can it be equitable when some teachers are subjected to standardized test scores and others aren’t?”

Though the original EES has been modified, Hughey still does not feel it is an adequate or fair tool for evaluation. “It lacks respect for the teaching profession,” he said, citing statistics from a recent survey of Hawaii school principals. In that survey, he said, 78 percent agreed that implementation of EES has adversely affected the morale of their school, and a similar percentage agreed that the DOE should delay the full implementation of the EES.

Though the EES is in their current contract, Rosenlee, Hughey and Perruso are committed to repealing it in its current form, recommending a moratorium be established as soon as possible, “while we can work with the DOE to ensure the personal evaluations are fair, transparent, equitable and comprehensive.”

Discussing his own motivation for running, Hughey said, “I am a firm believer that the HSTA should remain a membership-driven union, bottom up – not top down.”

He feels it is important for the local residents to be aware of the conditions that teachers here face, because it will help them understand the high rate of turnover and reasons why Hawaii has a hard time retaining and recruiting qualified personnel.

The group’s website, www.changeHSTA.com, claims Hawaii ranks last in per pupil funding for public schools, that 56 percent of Hawaii’s teachers leave within five years, and 70 percent of new hires are “emergency” hires.

Voting will be conducted through April 24. Results of the elections are expected to be announced in early May. The winners of the election will assume their posts this summer and will serve three-year terms. The office of president is a paid post; the other two positions are unpaid.