The Hawaii Board of Education made it official last week when it announced it would be looking to replace Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi at the end of her term this coming summer.
There have been rumblings of change at the Department of Education since the election of Gov. David Ige in 2014. After all, his campaign called for reforming the department’s leadership.
Then Ige appointed Darrel Galera, a frequent critic of Matayoshi, to the Board of Education. He replaced Jim Williams, who resigned by distributing an open letter airing his grave concerns about the way Ige was implementing the new Every Student Succeeds Act.
Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi testifies during a Hawaii State Ethics commission meeting in 2015.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The governor created a task force to come up with a blueprint for the new federal regulations last April with Galera as chairman. Williams believed that the decision making on the new law should be handled by the BOE and that Ige was overstepping his authority.
But a lot of teachers are going to be OK with the change in leadership.
Through my first years of teaching, I had to dedicate all of my energy to my own classroom. I was still learning the job and getting my routines set and picking up tips and tricks.
During those years, I held the name Kathryn Matayoshi in contempt. She was a boogeyman, someone to point to as the source of our problems.
“Who does she think she is?” was frequently batted around when teachers discussed a new state initiative. Many took personal offense that a career politician with a background in law was telling teachers how to do their job.
It was not until last year that I started looking at my classroom in the greater context of my school and the state system. That was the first time I actually talked to someone from the Department of Education.
My mental picture of Matayoshi clashed with how she was described by my new state partners.
I was finally made aware of many of her initiatives and her insistence that all DOE employees should be able to justify their work in terms of how it helped and supported teachers. She knew teachers have the most impact on students, the ultimate stakeholders, I was told.
But back at school, my co-workers and I could not see any of that coming from the superintendent.
We teachers need to be aware of what the department is doing for us — this needs to be the highest priority for the new superintendent.
The standing question is how can that communication be achieved when teachers feel overwhelmed with all the information we have to process daily?
I often have to juggle talking with other teachers, emailing administration and calling parents while planning and executing the best new methods to communicate knowledge to my students. I often stifle a groan when I find another DOE memo in my school mailbox. It just feels like one more thing.
A better method can be derived from our own pedagogy: Building relationships is crucial to success. This would involve the DOE getting out into schools and connecting with teachers one on one on our turf. Link teachers up with personalized support for what we as individual professionals need.
With that information and alliance, we on the ground could really see what is happening downtown.
Because a change of superintendents is not a fix-all for what ails our system. The position is just one piece of the department, a very public and powerful piece, but still restricted by the rest of the structure.
Policies and initiatives are crafted and executed by a large bureaucracy that is not going to have much turnover with this change in leadership. Our funding is still going to be determined by the same Legislature. Educational philosophy differences among teachers and administrators are still going to be debated and contested in our schools. Our students will still have the same problems in their communities affecting their educational journeys.
Ultimately, a new superintendent will have a lot on his or her plate, and I am extremely grateful my name will not be up for consideration.
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Ethan ʻOnipaʻa Porter is a Social Studies instructor at Campbell High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in Hawaiian Studies and Political Science and
a Certificate in Secondary Education, Social Studies, both from the University of Hawaii Manoa.