Christina Kishimoto has been selected as the next Hawaii Department of Education superintendent.

Kishimoto will replace current Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, whose contract is up June 30. Matayoshi was criticized by educators for creating an overly centralized school system. Kishimoto begins her three-year contract on August 1, according to a Board of Education statement, and the board will pick an interim superintendent to serve during July.

Kishimoto currently serves as Superintendent of Gilbert Public Schools in Arizona. As Hawaii superintendent, Kishimoto will be responsible for the country’s only statewide school district. The Department of Education oversees 256 schools with 175,000 students, 22,300 permanent employees and 13,500 casual hires.

At Gilbert Unified School District, Kishimoto manages a $305 million budget. Courtney Teague/Civil Beat

“In partnership with Chairperson Mizumoto, the Board, and Governor David Ige, I look forward to implementing a vision of excellence for all students,” Kishimoto said in the statement. “I look forward to working hand in hand with Hawaii’s teachers, leaders, staff, parents, community members, and student leaders to execute on this vision of high quality college, career, and community readiness.”

BOE Chair Lance Mizumoto said the decision was difficult for the board because “both finalists were so highly qualified.” But Kishimoto had “the right combination of experience, knowledge, and focus” to implement Gov. David Ige’s strategic vision for education and Blueprint, he said.

She beat out finalist Linda Chen, who started Baltimore-based Ikigai Educational Consulting last year, and has a background in teaching and educational administration.

In public testimony to the board, people overwhelmingly opposed both finalists and called for a local candidate. The Hawaii State Teachers Association told the board they didn’t support either candidate.

Others testifying felt they lacked experience and gave vague answers in their statements at a press conference. Many questioned the candidates’ performance in previous education jobs.

Neither candidate has served in a school district as large as Hawaii.

The Star-Advertiser first reported last month that Kishimoto was unanimously denied a contract extension for her job as superintendent in Hartford, Conn. The schools board previously gave her low marks on a performance review, citing poor communication.

She defended her performance at last month’s press conference, saying she maintained good relationships with politicians and board members. Kishimoto called herself a “bold leader” who brought change to a high-poverty district that was in the midst of a state takeover.

Kishimoto also responded to criticism of her current performance as a superintendent in Gilbert, Ariz. at the press conference. The schools system was under pressure from a conservative right and a need for innovation, she said, and pointed to some of her achievements.

The statement said that Kishimoto passed a full background check. Mizumoto added that “district officials, former superintendents, and other individuals in the Gilbert district were contacted” and “negative statements made about Dr. Kishimoto were either inconsequential or simply invalid.”

Kishimoto has served as superintendent in Gilbert since July 2014.

A news conference will be held next month to introduce Kishimoto, according to the release.

View the candidates’ full resumes here and watch videos of the press conference here.

A Call For More Transparency

Jim Shon, director of the University of Hawaii at Manoa Hawaii Educational Policy Center, said the search has been stressful for those who follow education in Hawaii and the finalists “leaped into the final arena in a cloud of smoke and not transparency.”

Candidates from the mainland might be more aggressive in their work ethic, he said, which is something Hawaii might not be used to.

Hawaii residents might be looking for more stability in a superintendent than mainlanders would expect, he said, and outsiders might have difficulty to adjust to the DOE’s single district system and collective bargaining arrangements.

Shon said he doesn’t know of anyone willing to “stick their neck out” and say recruiting candidates from outside the DOE is a positive thing.

“I think a lot of people are in the same situation. What is it about these folks that stood out from the 92 (original pool of applicants)?” he said.

Randy Roth, UH law professor, also complained of a lack of transparency in the superintendent search. There should have been an open forum so candidates could answer questions in public, he said.

Roth also said he doesn’t know of anyone who’s vocally supported either finalist, but because there hasn’t been an opportunity for public interviews, “people don’t have enough information to form a valid opinion.”

It’s conceivable the mainland finalists may do a good job, he said, but he hasn’t heard them answer any questions about Hawaii’s unique education community.

He noted that Gov. David Ige has a lot of power over the DOE and can veto budget line items — plus, Hawaii is the only state with a single school district. In testimony, Roth suggested the board ask candidates questions about the governor’s plan for “a schools-centered system” and his Blueprint for Public Education.

“Their resumes suggest (the candidates) are smart, hardworking people with an excellent formal education,” Roth said. “Whether they’re a good fit for Hawaii … I think is anybody’s guess.”

About the Author