An overwhelming number of people who submitted written testimony to the Hawaii Board of Education as of midday Wednesday asked the BOE not to renew the contract of Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. A total of 24 entities and people opposed Kishimoto and her actions, while just two people supported her for another term leading Hawaii’s public schools, according to public written testimony.
The BOE’s Human Resources Committee considers whether to begin discussions on a contract extension for Kishimoto at its meeting Thursday, March 4, at 11 a.m.
The Board of Directors of the principals’ union submitted testimony opposing another contract for Kishimoto.
“While we have a direct impact on student achievement, a cohesive and effective system of support is necessary to create the conditions in which success is maximized. This system of support is lacking under the current superintendent,” said the testimony from the leaders of Hawaii Government Employees Association’s Unit 6, which represents educational officers.
A system of support in a large organization such as the DOE requires “clear, open, timely and consistent communication of school-related initiatives, programs, and compliance requirements. Educational officers cannot perform and lead when communication is poor and information is inconsistent or lacks clarity, leading to confusion,” HGEA’s Unit 6 wrote.
The principals said public schools need a superintendent and leadership team to ensure:
- Decisions include the voice of educational officers – consultation and feedback from those on the front line.
- Clear guidance and direction properly communicated to the field; there shouldn’t be much variation when it comes to health and safety issues.
- Resources that need to be provided and readily available when decisions are announced and not a “now you have to figure it out” response.
Glen Iwamoto, the principal at Waimalu Elementary, provided blunt written testimony opposing the reappointment of Kishimoto.
“At a time when our schools needed a leader to look to, she was noticeably absent. She merely closed her eyes and hoped for the best. The real heroes of this pandemic are the teachers and staffs at the schools. The teachers taught themselves how to teach distance learners. They did it without infrastructure, hardware, and most glaring, leadership,” Iwamoto said.
“Dr. K. waivered on every key decision, and in most cases, threw the complex area superintendents and principals under the bus, claiming that each district and school had unique needs and decisions were best made at the school level. Under the guise of ‘empowerment,’ she has avoided all decision making,” Iwamoto added.
“I could go on and on about how our students and communities have been let down by Dr. K., but the theme that emerges is that there has been no leadership during this most difficult time,” he wrote.
HSTA chapter presidents submit testimony calling for new HIDOE leadership
HSTA President Corey Rosenlee submitted testimony co-signed by members of the union’s Board of Directors, made up of volunteer teacher leaders across the state, noting they voted unanimously to ask the BOE not to renew Kishimoto’s contract.
“HSTA wants to thank the Board of Education for the numerous times this board has had to take actions to overturn decisions made by the superintendent that could have had serious ramifications for our keiki and our schools,” Rosenlee wrote.
Rosenlee’s testimony listed the 12 reasons why the Association says it’s time for new leadership at HIDOE.
Rosenlee held a news conference Tuesday explaining why the teachers’ union opposes Kishimoto’s actions and leadership approach, especially during the pandemic.
Inga Park Okuna, a counselor at Kalihi Uka Elementary and president of HSTA’s Honolulu Chapter and its 2,387 members, also turned in testimony against Kishimoto on behalf of her chapter.
“Instead of working collaboratively to problem solve and creatively face the pandemic, she (Kishimoto) has repeatedly made decisions on her own. Even when directed by the Board of Education to rescind or revise these decisions, she continues to exclude the teachers in the planning process,” Okuna said.
Keaau Middle School special education inclusion and math teacher Edwin Kagawa submitted testimony on behalf of HSTA’s Hilo Chapter and its more than 1,200 educators, which he serves as chapter president.
“Superintendent Kishimoto has repeatedly shown that she does not have the leadership skills to advocate for our public education system. She consistently ‘flip-flops’ on decisions and messaging between her and the governor, you as the board, the Department of Health, and the public,” Kagawa said in written testimony.
“In addition, her communications to the schools have been so inconsistent and vague that schools are making decisions and implementing plans that vary so much it is dangerous for the safety and security of our staff and students,” Kagawa wrote.
Romeo Eleno, a health and physical education teacher at Lanai High and Elementary, submitted testimony opposing a new contract for Kishimoto. He serves as president of the HSTA Lanai Chapter, representing 50 members.
Eleno said recent events have “shown a lack of due diligence and responsible decision-making in the best interest of our keiki as well as our educators. Without notice to both HSTA and BOE, she unilaterally announced the termination of shortage differentials to teachers in hard-to-staff schools, special education, and Hawaiian language immersion even though the differentials had shown remarkable success in stabilizing the turnover rates at our school here on Lanai. The federal stimulus money could be utilized to cover the costs.”
HSTA Maui Chapter President Mike Landes, a social studies teacher at Lahainaluna High, submitted testimony representing 1,449 HSTA members on Maui.
“It disappoints me to give this testimony because I had high hopes for the superintendent as recently as one year ago when I met her at the state Capitol as we were both there to lobby on behalf of efforts to recruit and retain teachers. But the right thing to do is the right thing to do,” Landes wrote.
“Our public school system needs a leader who has the trust of their employees, their students, and their families. That trust has been broken beyond repair, and it is time for someone new,” Landes said.
Individual teachers submit their concerns: ‘she changes with the wind’
Rank-and-file educators also spoke out against the superintendent’s actions and policies.
Kelly Duell, a teacher at Kealakehe Elementary on Hawaii Island wrote, “As a teacher, I can tell you working under Kishimoto has been a nightmare and extremely stressful.”
She lacks leadership skills, Duell said, “does not care about teachers or students, is vindictive, and is dishonest. She made bold-faced lies to the BOE and the general public.
“She makes secret behind-the-door policies that the CAS and principals must carry out, then publicly stated the opposite. The list is endless as to her incompetence!” Duell added.
Sienna Makarewicz, a teacher Kapaa Elementary School on Kauai, complained that the superintendent “has no clear vision. She changes with the wind. She does not listen to the BOE and she does not communicate with her teachers. We get information from the news and social media.
“She thinks she can make all decisions yet she does not take responsibility for her decisions. The way she threw her assistant under the bus for the Acellus decision was shameful. The buck stops with her. She was the one that pushed it. The review committee advised against it but she pushed it forward. I looked at 3 random things on Acellus and I could see it was sexist and of low rigor and quality. I do not know how challenging it is to find a replacement but she has to go,” Makarewicz said in her testimony.
Makarewicz referred to the controversy about Acellus, the remote learning platform HIDOE expanded over the summer to serve more students during the pandemic. Parents, students, and educators complained it contained racist, sexist, historically inaccurate, and inappropriate references in various lessons and was not academically challenging. After a public outcry, the department has begun abandoning the platform and plans to offer a new one.
Community advocates, parents also ask for a change at the top
Cheri Nakamura, director of the Hawaii education advocacy group called the HEʻE Coalition, wrote, “To be an effective leader, especially during a time of crisis, the superintendent needed to understand the importance of critical data, provide timely guidance and support to schools, and communicate with transparency. Dr. Kishimoto did not deliver on these items despite prodding from all stakeholders including the Board of Education. For these reasons, we believe that the Board should not offer the Superintendent a new employment contract.”
Heather Moselle, a public school parent, said, ”Due to consistent issues with lack of clear and timely communication from the Superintendent’s office to families, and the lack-of-confidence conveyed by educators and principals, I testify asking the board to find a replacement for the superintendent position.”
Kishimoto’s contract expires July 31.
Follow the discussion during Thursday’s BOE meetings
At the Board of Education Human Resources Committee meeting, which starts at 11 a.m. Thursday, members will vote on whether to recommend a new contract for Superintendent Kishimoto. Association leaders will provide testimony, and HSTA will stream the discussion live on Facebook and YouTube.
Then, at its general business meeting on Thursday afternoon, the BOE will hear and discuss a presentation from the Hawaii State Department of Education on “strategies for safe reopening of elementary and secondary schools to more in-person learning for fourth quarter.”
This is only a discussion. The board will not vote or take any action Thursday to bring more students back to campuses. We will also stream the general business meeting on our Facebook page and YouTube channel.
View the following Board of Education meeting agendas for Thursday, March 4: