The Hawaii Board of Education voted to lengthen the school superintendent’s current three-year contract by one year, in a largely procedural do-over to quell transparency concerns about a prior vote taken behind closed doors last month.

The board members voted 6-2 Thursday in support of extending superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s contract until July 31, 2021.

The majority vote came as no surprise, since Kishimoto earned largely favorable marks in her mid-year evaluation.

Board of Education Meeting.
The Board of Education on Thursday voted 6-2 to extend the contract of Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, left,  by a year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The evaluation was released Dec. 21, the same day the board opted to vote for  the first time, on extending her contract in a special closed-door session.

But concerns were raised in the wake of that vote about its secretive nature, causing BOE chairwoman Catherine Payne to order a re-do in public to dispel a “cloud over this.”

In the past, the school board has always made personnel decisions in special session, she said, unaware that Hawaii administrative rules may prohibit that.

Several board members took advantage of Thursday’s open proceeding — attended by a mix of education advocates, Department of Education staff and a visiting cohort of education policy students from Iowa — to voice their strong support of the superintendent.

“I dearly love this superintendent,” said Maggie Cox. “I think she’s been leading us in the right direction.”

Pat Bergin said the DOE is “on the right track” under Kishimoto and that she “wholeheartedly supports” extending her contract, given that many school superintendents tend to start looking for their next stop midway into a contract.

Nolan Kawano and Ken Uemura cast the two dissenting votes. While they didn’t disagree with fellow board members on the superintendent’s progress, they felt a contract extension was more appropriate at the end of the school year from a “process standpoint.”

While Kishimoto, who led school districts in Connecticut and Arizona before coming to Hawaii, earned strong marks from the appointed board — which is in charge of selecting, reviewing and renewing the superintendent — some education supporters urged an evaluation more tied to data.

“As equity advocates who believe in multiple forms of assessment, including data-driven decision making, we would like to see how the HIDOE is making movement in the indicators that affect our high-needs students, such as chronic absenteeism and the achievement gap,” states a letter signed by seven people representing various education interests.

The DOE’s 2017-2020 strategic plan lists 14 indicators of “student success” and targets to reach for such items as high school graduation and college-going rates, reduction in chronic absenteeism and the number of teacher positions filled.

The board’s mid-year evaluation of the superintendent didn’t rely on any data points to assess progress in these areas, nor did the superintendent’s mostly positive year-end evaluation last year.

“If there are improvements, there should be an explanation or connection as to why these improvements are being made and an articulation of why they’re not,” said Cheri Nakamura, who heads the He’e Coalition.

The DOE had scheduled a “data retreat” for board members last August until Hurricane Lane forced the DOE to postpone the event. DOE spokeswoman Lindsay Chambers said she wasn’t aware of any plans to reschedule it.

The department set ambitious targets under its current strategic plan, including reducing its statewide chronic absenteeism rate from its current 15 percent to 9 percent by 2019-20.

Some double-digit percentage gaps it’s struggling to close include the “inclusion rate,” or percentage of special ed students who are included in general education classes for 80 percent or more of the school day, and student achievement in state testing for English, math and science.

The DOE is gearing up to come up with its next strategic plan for the next 10 years.

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