The grades are in for Hawaii school superintendent Christina Kishimoto at the 10-month mark in her new role and they’re largely favorable, according to an end-of-year review released by the state Board of Education last week.

The board, which screens, hires and evaluates the superintendent, scored Kishimoto as “highly effective” in professional standards and “effective” in program-related improvement areas, such as implementation of the state’s strategic education plan.

The board “acknowledges that the superintendent just started her administration and that there is still much done to be around complex issues, such as teacher recruitment and retention, the achievement gap and equity,” the summary says.

“The board commends her for her professionalism and her focus on students, and it is satisfied that our organization is heading in the right direction at this time.”

DOE Superintendent Dr Christina Kishimoto during joint house/senate education hearing at the Capitol.
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto appears at the state Capitol this past legislative session to provide testimony to state lawmakers. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kishimoto, a veteran administrator who led school districts in Gilbert, Arizona, and Hartford, Connecticutt, before moving to Hawaii, started at the state Department of Education in August 2017.

She’s spent her first year familiarizing herself with the vast school system, which operates as a single district, and includes 256 schools, 36 public charter schools, 21,000 total staff members and 179,000 students.

The education board — comprised of nine appointed members — evaluated Kishimoto as “highly effective” in her leadership style and community engagement skills. They noted she’s taken “significant steps” to articulate her vision for education in the state while dedicating “numerous hours to laying the groundwork” for that vision through school visits, one-on-ones with policymakers and the formation of her core team.

When it comes to prioritizing and implementing plans to address student performance outcomes, the board scored the school chief as “effective,” noting that while she’s come up with a plan to review special education and English language learning, it had yet to receive her specific recommendations for improvement.

“In this area, results matter, and the Board is anxiously awaiting the results of this crucial work,” the summary said.

On Friday, the day after the evaluation came out, the Board released its agenda for Thursday’s upcoming meeting that includes the superintendent’s recommendations for improving special ed and English Language Learner services.

Kishimoto, who has a three-year contract with a $240,000 annual salary, assumed her new role at a transitional time for the state’s schools.

A year before her arrival, the DOE adopted a new strategic plan for 2017-2020 that aims to dramatically reduce chronic absenteeism, increase the special education inclusion rate, raise the high school graduation and college enrollment rates and boost teacher hiring and retention.

Shortly after she started, the state then submitted, and received federal approval of its plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Kishimoto, a native of the Bronx who moved to Hawaii for the job, came up with a three-pronged strategy for achieving the goals outlined in the strategic plan. They are grouped under the categories, “school design,” “student voice” and “teacher collaboration.” She’s also partly reshuffled her central team and proposed organizational changes to key divisions.

In the last 10 months, the superintendent has visited more than 60 schools across the state and held numerous meetings with the community, though her evaluation noted that some outside feedback expressed a desire for more interactions with neighbor islands and schools with large military populations.

A DOE spokeswoman told Civil Beat that Kishimoto was “unavailable to provide a comment” for this story.

Board chairman Lance Mizumoto said in a statement that Kishimoto has accomplished a lot in a short time. “She has demonstrated the kind of leadership skills we need to overcome challenges,” he said.

Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto shaka with HSTA president Corey Rosenlee outside the senate after the senate passed a key vote today to ask voters to decide this fall whether the statehould be empowered to impose a surcharge on residential investment properties to help fund public education. Constitutional Amendment.
Kishimoto with members of Hawaii’s teachers’ union after the state Senate in April voted to allow the public to decide whether the state should impose a surcharge on residential investment properties to help fund public education. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Though there are still a few more weeks left in the school year, the evaluation was done now “to allow time for the BOE and Superintendent to set priorities for the upcoming school year,” the DOE said in a statement.

Those have been bundled into an improvement plan heading into the new school year.

For the first time in the Board’s evaluation history, those priorities incorporate feedback from both voices within the Department of Education and outside of it. Suggestions included holding a joint education board and education department retreat, creating a partnership between the board and DOE “to engage legislators,” as well as holding more town hall-style meetings.

Additional priorities from outside voices include ensuring safe learning environments, equity and access. Also cited as priority areas were facilities and infrastructure and addressing mental health needs for both students and teachers.

Hawaii’s school superintendent was evaluated this year using a new process that included periodic assessments, a mid-year review and increased input from teachers, principals and the public. That new methodology, said board member Hubert Minn, is like “night and day” compared to the old model as far as openness.

“This evaluation has complete transparency, which I believe is refreshing, from the former evaluation,” Minn said.

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