Hawaii’s new schools superintendent will face an evaluation process that aims to be more fluid and include more input from both education administrators and members of the public.

That’s the idea behind a proposed blueprint of the process recently released by the state Board of Education.

Unlike in years past, the evaluation that officials will use to review Christina Kishimoto in her first year on the job strives to be more transparent and provide a clear understanding of the new school leader’s priorities for the year and what she is expected to accomplish.

The proposed evaluation was drafted by a three-person committee from within the BOE along with input from the superintendent.

“The committee feels that it is important to have a process that encourages the board and superintendent to engage in continuous learning and leadership development together,” according to the proposal.

Kishimoto took over Hawaii’s 179,000-student public school system in August, after leading the Gilbert Public School District in Arizona and before that the Hartford Public School District in Connecticut.

Hawaii Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, Editorial meeting at office.
Hawaii School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto will undergo a different kind of evaluation than her predecessors after her first year leading Hawaii’s public schools. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hired under a three-year contract at an annual salary of $240,000, the veteran school administrator inherited a school system that has struggled to narrow the achievement gap for high-needs students, including special education students and English language learners.

Among the first-year priorities for Kishimoto will be to conduct reviews of special education and ELL services, with the goal of coming up with suggested improvements to the BOE by next spring.

She also intends to develop a three-year implementation plan by April to ensure all schools are in compliance with federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Additionally, Kishimoto intends to develop a five-year teacher recruitment and retention plan for a state that has historically struggled to keep teachers in place, largely due to the geographic isolation of Hawaii, teacher pay in relation to the high cost of living and a sentiment that there’s a lack of adequate professional training or support for staff.

The proposed evaluation for the superintendent — which must be considered by the full nine-member board for adoption following public input — acknowledges the limitations of what Kishimoto may be expected to accomplish in her first year.

Rather, she will focus on reviewing existing systems with the goal of proposing plans of action, according to the document.

Hawaii recently submitted to the U.S. Department of Education its Every Student Succeeds Act plan, which outlines its vision to meet performance standards that will qualify the district for federal funding.

Aside from these priorities, it may be the process by which Kishimoto will be assessed this year that most marks a departure from systems employed in the past. For one, the method used to evaluate the previous superintendent, Kathryn Matayoshi, was built on elements that were considered dated or didn’t reflect current thinking.

This time around, the BOE committee, working in conjunction with Kishimoto, relied on standards put into practice by state school boards elsewhere in the country, like New York and Oregon, in addition to the American Association of School Administrators‘ professional standards.

The result of that research is an evaluation process that aims to be much more interactive between the superintendent and the BOE, which hired her and decides whether or not to renew her contract once it is up.

“More importantly, it formalizes the paradigm shift away from the top-down, employer-employee relationship to one that focuses on trust, collaboration, and mutual accountability between the board and superintendent and building a safe learning environment to grow together,” the proposal says.

Mayatoshi, the prior school superintendent, faced criticism for a style of governance some saw as being overly bureaucratic without giving freedom and flexibility to teachers and school leaders. Her contract, which expired at end of June, was not renewed by the board.

Proposed changes since that time abound: rather than have simply a year-end assessment of the new superintendent’s performance, there will be quarterly check-ins, a mid-year formative assessment plus stakeholder input from teachers and principals and the public, who will be able to send in responses anonymously to the BOE.

The goal is to conduct a broader assessment that relies on input from various members of the education community to make the evaluation process much less mystifying for those outside the education department.

In prior interviews with Civil Beat, Kishimoto has strongly endorsed a system where students have input on school structure and design, where students can feel empowered and where teachers are free to take risks.

The proposed evaluation model will also measure whether the superintendent can develop a “positive organizational culture and school climate throughout the department,” recruit effective teachers and ensure effective use of fiscal resources.

Additionally, the evaluation will assess whether she can build a “culture of collaboration, trust, and learning” at all school levels, use data to identify effective practices and ensure that all staff “receive relevant and continuous professional development, including leadership development.”

Board of Education member Hubert Minn was on the committee that helped come up with the proposed evaluation. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

BOE members Bruce Voss, Pat Bergin and Hubert Minn were on the committee that collaborated with Kishimoto to come up with the evaluation framework. The committee is unanimously recommending that the full board adopt the process at a date in the near future.

Kishimoto was hired in May to oversee the state’s public school system — the country’s ninth-largest and the only one that features a single school district  — that spans 256 public schools, 36 public charter schools, roughly 179,000 students and 22,500 employees.

The superintendent also wants to “promote a positive image of the public education system with families, the media, state officials and the community.” She intends to develop an internal communications plan by November that will be implemented through June of next year, according to the proposed evaluation.

Already the schools chief is an active social media user, posting photos and positive accounts of her visits with a number of schools on Oahu and the neighbor islands on Twitter. She has appeared at community meetings statewide hosted by DOE, according to public notices and social media.

Commended by many so far for her willingness to get out into the community and meet people face to face, Kishimoto intends to hold “one-on-one, in-person stakeholder engagement opportunities” for feedback, according to the proposal.

It’s not only customary that a school superintendent has input into the proposed evaluation framework but expected, according to education veterans.

“It’s integral that the employee is involved in helping define the objectives and the weights that are involved,” said BOE member Brian De Lima. “It’s a dynamic process where everybody, from the superintendent to the board, has discussions.”

The BOE in July voted to form a committee that would work with Kishimoto to set goals and targets and determine the evaluation tool.

A summary of Kishimoto’s evaluation will be published in late May.

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