The future superintendent of Hawaii schools — and the high school principal who will serve as interim schools chief for a month until she starts her job Aug. 1 — spoke briefly to the media Wednesday.

Incoming superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s three-year contract begins after she transitions out of her current role as superintendent of Gilbert Public Schools in Arizona. 

The interim superintendent for July will be Keith Hayashi, the interim deputy superintendent and principal of Waipahu High School, the Department of Education announced Wednesday.

Hawaii Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto at presser held at the BOE building. 7 june 2017
Incoming Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and soon-to-be interim superintendent Keith Hayashi spoke to the media Wednesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

At a press conference Wednesday, Kishimoto said she was spending a few days in Hawaii looking for a new home, and meeting with staff members and DOE department heads. She also plans to visit Hawaii for a few days in July and meet with leaders in Hawaii’s education community.

Kishimoto announced that  Hayashi and Amy Kunz, DOE’s senior assistant superintendent and chief financial officer, would be “part of my core leadership team.”

She commended Hawaii’s strategic plan for public education and said her next step will be to develop a strategy to implement it. Kishimoto said she hopes to make Hawaii’s education system the best in the nation.

Continuing to receive student input is important, Kishimoto said, adding the Board of Education aims to work with staff at all levels. The “common mindset” about the future of Hawaii schools is a key strength, she said, adding the widespread appreciation for culture, family and community in Hawaii classrooms is what attracted her to the job.

Kishimoto, who is bilingual herself, said she will prioritize educational equity and inclusive learning practices for English-language learners and special education students. It’s important to ensure students are excited about learning, she said.

“We want to make sure that every student who is part of this school system, regardless of neighborhood, community, where they live in the state, that they have the equal opportunity to have access to great resources and to be performing at a very high level to be able to go into college and go into career options,” she said.

Asked by a reporter how she will alleviate concerns that a local finalist was not chosen, Kishimoto said she plans to visit classrooms and ensure that “staff, parents and students get to know me.”

In Gilbert, where she has been superintendent since July 2014, Kishimoto oversees 40 schools and 38,000 students.

The Hawaii DOE is responsible for 256 schools, 175,000 students, 22,300 permanent employees and 13,500 casual hires.

Kishimoto will be paid $240,000 per year. Current Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, whose term expires June 30, was paid $200,000 in 2015.

Educators had long complained that Matayoshi, who was appointed in 2010, created a top-heavy school system. Board members voted to extend her contract in 2014 on the condition that she respond to the concerns expressed in a lobbying effort led by more than a dozen current and retired principals.

Kishimoto beat out 92 applicants, including one other finalist, Linda Chen. Chen founded a Baltimore-based educational consulting firm and has a background in both teaching and administration, though the highest rank she held was assistant superintendent.

Kishimoto was also superintendent of the Hartford, Connecticut, school district. The Star-Advertiser reported that she was unanimously denied a contract extension by the school board, which had previously given her poor marks on a performance review, citing a lack of communication.

She defended her Hartford tenure during a May press conference, saying she was a “bold leader” who brought needed change to a high-poverty district during a state takeover.

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