A group of former and current Hawaii public school principals is calling for new leadership at the state Department of Education.

About 10 of the educators gathered at the University of Hawaii law school on Monday morning for a press conference announcing their efforts to reform the DOE, starting with what they describe as its ineffective and overly centralized leadership team.

“The system will not reform itself,” said Darrel Galera, a retired principal who most recently oversaw Castle High School.

At the helm of that team is district Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. Matayoshi’s current four-year contract is set to expire June 30, and members of the state Board of Education are scheduled to decide whether to renew her next four-year contract at a meeting Tuesday. The board will make its decision behind closed doors during an executive session.

The educators most outspoken in their criticisms of the department and its leaders are a dozen or so retired principals, including Galera, Larry Gaddis and Bob Golden.

principals criticize DOE

Darrel Galera, Larry Gaddis and Bob Golden, among other current and former principals, urged the DOE to replace its leaders at a press conference on Monday, June 2, 2014.

Alia Wong/Civil Beat

A number of current principals have also joined in, but most of them chose not to reveal themselves publicly at Monday’s press conference, instead sitting outside the room where it was held. Galera, who is serving as the group’s spokesman, said those principals fear the DOE will retaliate if they share their criticisms publicly.

Fear of retaliation is one of the biggest concerns among principals, a recent survey shows. Nearly two-thirds of principals fear the DOE will punish them if they speak out.

The independent survey, conducted in April by Galera and several other retired educators and publicized last month, reveals great dissatisfaction among principals with various DOE initiatives and their impact on student learning and school morale.

Nearly all of the principals who participated in the survey — 94 percent — said that implementation of the new teacher evaluation system has damaged faculty and staff morale. Meanwhile, more than three-fourths of them believe the new system has detracted from time that should be spent on preparing students for Common Core, a new set of rigorous academic standards being adopted across the country.

The survey garnered responses from 160 people, or about two-thirds of all the state’s principals. Galera on Monday repeatedly said that “the survey results speak for themselves.”

The fact that no one within the DOE has responded to the survey shows that the department’s leaders are unfit to bring about change, he said. Galera said he finds the leadership’s silence and denial “shocking” and “alarming.”

The results also show that the state’s school district needs a makeover, Galera said. He said most principals agree that means decentralizing the district and giving decision-making power to individual schools. What exactly that system would look like is up for discussion, Galera said.

“We just need to turn it right side up,” he told Civil Beat. “They’ve been forced into a one-size-fits-all model.”

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