The Hawaii Board of Education Thursday voted to approve the creation of a special committee to set a search timeline and process to select a new superintendent for Hawaii public schools. The board also spent time discussing whether an interim superintendent should be eligible or prohibited from applying for the permanent superintendent’s post, but did not make a decision on that issue.

Current Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has said she will not seek another contract when her current agreement expires at the end of July. She made the announcement last week, after principals’ and teachers’ unions, along with education advocates and some parents testified they had lost faith in her leadership.

The board voted Thursday to create the investigative committee to begin outlining a search process, assigning the chairs of the board’s standing committees, Student Achievement Committee Chair Margaret Cox, Human Resources Chair Dwight Takeno, Finance and Infrastructure Chair Bruce Voss, and BOE Chair Catherine Payne to the committee. Payne will serve as committee chair.

Cheri Nakamura, executive director of a public education advocacy group called the HEʻE Coalition, told board members “we support the BOE looking for an interim superintendent, who would not be eligible for the permanent position, and who is first and foremost for our students”

“This interim would hopefully build confidence among principals, teachers, and community members and stabilize the system. We would hope that this person would be an effective listener and communicator, build on the assets we already have in the system, and work with the BOE on a strategic and systematic approach on school improvement,” Nakamura testified Thursday.

Kenneth Uemura, the BOE’s vice chair, said he supports considering the same person for both the short-term and long-term superintendent posts.

“The interim superintendent will encompass, really, an important and critical period of transition for the DOE, as we address the COVID-related outcomes, some communication shortfall, the fiscal federal dollars and the budget,” Uemura said.

“The selection, to me, of the interim superintendent, is as important as selecting a new superintendent,” he added.

“The interim superintendent could potentially be a new superintendent, so the vetting” is imperative, Uemura said. “It makes sense for the selection committee to look at both the interim and the permanent superintendent at the same time.”

Payne responded to Uemura’s comments by saying, “We may not have the luxury of a long-term search for an interim superintendent depending on how things evolve.”

In her memo laying out the plan to begin the search, Payne initially said the interim superintendent shouldn’t apply for the permanent position.

“Whether that would be perceived as an unfair advantage by people in the community and people in the department is a consideration we have to make,” Payne said, citing one reason to bar the interim from applying for the permanent spot.

“If the interim were part of the candidate mix, that requires a lot of time and distraction from the work of getting out schools open if that is going to be our focus,” Payne added.

Cox told her colleagues “I’m torn on this,” because she asked, “what if the interim superintendent is super and then we’re saying up front” that they can’t apply for the permanent position.

Cox said the BOE needs to get an interim superintendent selected as soon as possible because fall school reopening plans have to be done before schools get out for summer.

“We need an interim superintendent that has a clear plan on what it is we have to do to help the students who have lost so much learning time and have to catch up,” Cox said.

“What we see is, there have to be clear directions from the top so the superintendent has to have a clear plan on how we’re going to address the needs of all of these kids,” Cox added.

“We need to be up and running and we need to have the schools have a clear picture from the top of what it is they need to do to get things running for the fall,” she said.

Uemura said, “The consideration for the interim should be in the same thought process as selecting a new superintendent.”

“I am not in favor of excluding the person,” because he said, “the board will have the ability to see what the person does in the interim.”

“You’re kind of limiting your pool of candidates” if you rule out an interim superintendent from applying for the permanent job, Uemura added.

BOE member Kaimana Barcarse said he “wanted to recognize those who submitted testimony. I appreciate the supportive, can-do attitude in which the testimonies came in and the real desire to find a pathway forward, especially in these crazy COVID times.”

The board voted unanimously to set up a committee to outline the search process, including a timeline and considerations that need to be taken into account for the search.

A second committee, to be named later, will engage in the superintendent search.

“There will be two committees and lots of opportunities for community, student, and Department of Education staff to give us input,” Payne said.

Listen to an audio recording of the BOE meeting here.