An assistant superintendent for the Hawaii Department of Education who recently paid a fine for an alleged ethics violation was reassigned Tuesday to a new role as interim principal of Waipahu Community School for Adults, according to internal documents obtained by Civil Beat.

The reassignment of Suzanne Mulcahy, former assistant superintendent of the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support, comes two months after the DOE official reached a settlement with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission after admitting to using departmental staff and resources for her doctoral work at University of Hawaii Manoa.

Mulcahy’s new role as interim principal of Waipahu Community School, an adult education center whose main campus is housed at Waipahu High School, was detailed in a memo sent to the complex area superintendents Monday afternoon by Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami.

Suzanne Mulcahy Assistant Superintendent DOE during joint senate/House education committee hearing at the Capitol.
Suzanne Mulcahy testifies during a joint Senate-House education committee hearing at the State Capitol earlier this year. 

Mulcahy had served as assistant superintendent of OCISS since 2015, and was one of six assistant superintendents in charge of a core area who are part of the central leadership team at the DOE.

In a separate memorandum sent to Board of Education members Monday informing them of the change, school superintendent Christina Kishimoto announced interim placements to account for the reshuffling.

“I will be redirecting and refocusing the work of the OCISS team over the next three months,” Kishimoto wrote in the memo. She added that she will be “running an internal search for a permanent replacement effective July 1.”

Mulcahy’s transfer has no nexus with the state ethics commission case, DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said. “To claim it is a demotion is inaccurate and unfair,” she said to Civil Beat in an email.

“Superintendent Kishimoto has been with HIDOE since August 2017 and continues to make changes and leadership appointments,” Dela Cruz said.

Mulcahy did not respond to a message seeking comment.

In a Jan. 18 agreement with the ethics commission, Mulcahy agreed to pay a $1,500 administrative fine for alleged ethics violations of the Fair Treatment and Confidentiality Law.

As part of the settlement, she admitted to using DOE employees and staff resources to conduct research on homeless students toward her doctorate in educational administration at UH, without first getting approval from the DOE’s data governance and analysis branch.

The ethics commission case prompted the DOE to open its own internal investigation into the matter. Dela Cruz said Tuesday that investigation is still ongoing and that it’s “unknown at this time when the investigation will conclude.”

Since assuming the superintendent position at the start of the school year, Kishimoto has made several new appointments to her central team, including naming a new chief information officer, new assistant superintendent for the Office of Human Resources and new interim assistant superintendent for the Office of Strategy, Innovation and Performance.

DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto during DOE board meeting.
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto is looking for a permanent replacement for Mulcahy by July 1. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

While the superintendent is responsible for the management of the department, permanent senior leadership appointments must be approved by the education board.

As assistant superintendent of OCISS, Mulcahy was in charge of developing and implementing DOE policies through accountability metrics, standards-based curriculum and student support, as well as helping schools meet state and federal mandates.

She frequently testified at the Capitol, informing state lawmakers during informational briefings about topics like the weighted student formulas, English language programs and the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Mulcahy assumed that position in July 2015 after several other roles within the DOE, including serving as complex area superintendent for Kailua-Kalaheo, principal of Kailua Intermediate and vice principal at Castle High.

She’ll fill in as interim principal of Waipahu Community School, which offers a high school equivalency program and college and career courses, according to Unebasami’s memo.

Mulcahy’s reassignment means she goes from a statewide policy-making role to a position in charge of a school that graduates roughly 400 students a year.

Donna Kagawa, currently the complex area superintendent for Farrington-Kaiser-Kalani, will step in as interim assistant superintendent for OCISS through June 30, according to Kishimoto’s letter to the education board. Taking over Kagawa’s role as interim CAS, meanwhile, will be Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission Chairwoman Catherine Payne.

“This will be least disruptive so that I do not pull a principal from their position,” according to Kishimoto’s memo.

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