The Hawaii Board of Education has suspended its search for the next state school superintendent after a foundation pulled back from a large donation to support the effort.

Hundreds of people were surveyed to gain consensus on what’s wanted in the next state school superintendent, and the resulting job description and list of desired characteristics was expected to be posted Friday.

Instead, the BOE announced the search had been put on hold “to resolve issues surrounding Harold K.L. Castle Foundation’s financial support.”

The foundation had pledged to contribute $50,500 to support the search efforts, but announced Thursday it was suspending the grant because it feared the search was fixed in favor of Darrel Galera, who resigned from the BOE to seek the job.

Kathryn Matayoshi. Board of Education. 21 july 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The Board of Education has informed Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi that her contract will not be renewed when it expires June 30. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The search process was criticized by others as well.

The director of a University of Hawaii educational think tank said the job description was underwhelming, while the president of the teachers union complained that the position is potentially open to candidates with no education background.

But Castle’s decision to withhold its money seemed to weigh heaviest on the Board of Education’s Friday announcement:

The Search Committee is delaying the search process while evaluating the current situation and working to resolve issues surrounding Harold K.L. Castle Foundation’s financial support of the Superintendent search process. As part of this, the position will not be posted today as originally anticipated under the search timeline. We appreciate the support of the foundation and are hopeful that the issues can be resolved and the foundation can continue its support of a fair and transparent search for the Superintendent.

BOE Chair Lance Mizumoto did not return a request for comment over the weekend.

After Gov. David Ige issued a press release last week to simultaneously announce Galera’s resignation from the BOE and his candidacy for the superintendent job, some people said his ties to the governor seemed to give him an advantage over other applicants.

Galera is a retired public school principal and teacher who was appointed by the governor last year.

An outspoken critic of current Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, Galera administered a survey in 2014 that suggested principals felt bogged down by numerous DOE initiatives and needed more help from the district.

Gov. David Ige, right, said last week he was surprised to hear of the decision by Galera, left, to resign from the BOE and seek the superintendent job. Courtesy: Governor's Office

Galera replaced former board member Jim Williams, who resigned because he felt Ige’s team working to help implement the Every Student Succeeds Act — a 2015 federal education mandate — encroached on the BOE’s responsibilities by developing a “blueprint” for Hawaii schools.

During a meeting last week, BOE search committee member Patricia Bergin said she wanted to assure the public that the board will continue to conduct a search and be fair to other candidates.

Bergin added that the board was encouraged that an experienced candidate like Galera would apply, but other candidates also would be sought.

The BOE hired Ray and Associates to prepare the superintendent survey and aid in the search.

Hundreds of teachers, parents and other community members were asked in the survey to prioritize their top nine characteristics from among 27 wanted in the next superintendent, and the top choice among all three groups was for the next school chief to know or “become familiar with Hawaii’s people, culture, history, environment, geography and politics.”

Other preferred characteristics included a record of maintaining stability in a large organization, experience implementing policies consistent with local needs and interests, and making data-driven decisions.

Survey participants included 605 teachers, 391 parents and 323 other community members. Students, administrators and BOE members also took the survey. So did members of a superintendent search advisory group, which aids the three-person search committee.

BOE members said they considered the survey results in adopting a job description and list of desired characteristicsDuring their meeting, they amended the job description at the request of one critic, Cheri Nakamura, director of He‘e Coalition, a statewide coalition of stakeholders looking to improve public education.

Nakamura testified that the job description should include additional references to the need for educational equity “within the larger, broader system” of the DOE. Educational equity entails student rights such as equal access to resources, and curriculum that values culture and multilingualism, Nakamura said.

Questioning the Requirements

Position requirements include a master’s degree in education, business, public administration or a similar field. Candidates should have at least five years’ experience in a leadership role of a large organization, with three of those years spent in education.

Jim Shon, director of the Hawaii Educational Policy Center at the University of Hawaii, described the superintendent job description as “educational gobbledygook” that doesn’t indicate the state wants to change its top-heavy organizational structure.

In October, the BOE announced it would replace Matayoshi as superintendent when her contract expires June 30. Critics felt she created an excessively centralized public school system.

Shon pointed to a 2014 HEPC analysis of BOE policy that found the superintendent is required to sign off on an inordinate amount of paperwork. Even though the job description is changing, those policies haven’t, he said.

“There seems to be a consistent pattern that they believe that people who have never been teachers can run schools.” — Corey Rosenlee, Hawaii State Teachers Association

“Is there any statement in (the desired characteristics) that hints in a particular direction? Is there anything that anybody … wouldn’t agree with — they should be a good manager or something. Is that really helpful?” Shon said.

He said the BOE’s adoption of the desired characteristic that applicants be familiar with “Hawaii’s people, culture, history, environment, geography and politics” might discourage out-of-state candidates.

Outside candidates might have difficulty adapting quickly to a statewide school district, encounter resistance and be unfamiliar with a collective bargaining procedure required by state law, Shon said, adding the requirement seems to favor people who already work for the Department of Education.

Board of Education building2. 10 jan 2017
The Board of Education surveyed hundreds of people regarding what’s wanted in a new superintendent. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“When you go in-house, you accept a lot of assumptions and habits of mind that are part of the challenges,” Shon said.

In a follow-up interview over the weekend, Shon said the BOE’s decision to suspend the search Friday was “the result of relying on an outside source to do something that’s a part of (their) core mission.”

Over the past couple of years, Hawaii’s public education culture has changed to emphasize test scores, and arts, science, music and social studies programs have been cut as a result, said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Noting that candidates from the business sector are eligible, Rosenlee said the union favored narrower requirements so only those with a background in education could apply.

“One of the things that teachers feel very frustrated about is there seems to be a consistent pattern that they believe that people who have never been teachers can run schools,” Rosenlee said, pointing to the controversial confirmation of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. “We wouldn’t let someone who’s never been a doctor be the head of surgery.”

Many teachers feel that tests have too much influence in determining a student’s success. Rosenlee said he would have liked to have seen a provision in the job description or characteristics that acknowledges measures of learning other than test-taking.

View the full survey results, job description and list of desired characteristics below:

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