Business leaders, principals and the Honolulu police chief are among the people the Hawaii school superintendent has asked for input on the public education system’s successes and challenges as part of her year-end evaluation process.

The names of 20 people asked to provide feedback were approved by the Board of Education on March 7.

Their responses to survey questions developed by Superintendent Christina Kishimoto will be used “to inform goal setting for the next school year,” according to a BOE document.

While this so-called stakeholder feedback is not the evaluation, the document states, it will be used by the board and Kishimoto to help create a plan to improve and address problem areas.

Board of Education meeting. Catherine Payne .
The Hawaii Board of Education will look at the responses from outside stakeholders to set goals and priorities as part of the evaluation process for Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. Cory Lum/Civil Beat







Outside feedback is just one component of the superintendent’s evaluation process — which was re-shaped with Kishimoto’s input when she assumed the role in 2017 — but does not affect the final performance rating, according to an outline of the process.

Still, such feedback is not likely to be discounted by the board members, who are appointed by the governor and in charge of hiring and evaluating the school superintendent during mid-year and end-of-year reviews.

The board’s performance rating for the superintendent can determine any compensation adjustments or bonuses and factors into discussions surrounding renewal or termination of her contract.

“All the board members read every single word,” BOE member Bruce Voss said of the survey responses. “To me it’s important. We need input from beyond her inner circle.”

Those asked to provide feedback this year were HPD Chief Susan Ballard, Hawaiian Electric CEO Alan Oshima, Hawaii Business Roundtable executive director Gary Kai and higher education leaders like Nathan Murata, dean of the University of Hawaii Manoa’s College of Education, and Lynn Babington, president of Chaminade University.

Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto outside after the senate passed the measure. The State Senate on a key vote today on a bill to ask voters to decide this fall whether the state should be empowered to impose a surcharge on residential investment properties to help fund public education.
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s performance is being evaluated by the Hawaii Board of Education. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

From within the DOE, Kishimoto has asked four principals from various grade levels, as well as several complex area superintendents, and DOE’s director of civil rights compliance, Beth Schimmelfennig, to offer feedback.

Some people who were asked to provide feedback in the 2017-18 school year —Kishimoto’s first year leading the DOE — reappear on this year’s list, including Kamehameha Schools chief executive officer Jack Wong and State Public Charter School Commission executive director Sione Thompson.

Asked how Kishimoto chooses the respondents, a DOE spokesperson said they “represent a broad spectrum of internal and external stakeholder groups that can provide meaningful and constructive feedback.”

In April, the named individuals will be sent survey questions that ask, among other things, whether their overall perception of public education in Hawaii has improved over the last year; whether there is a “clear strategic direction” for the system; whether the superintendent has “effectively engaged with your community”; and how she can further develop community engagement.

These surveys are then collected and summarized on an anonymous basis by BOE administrative staff.

Kishimoto then will create and present a report to the board and propose a plan to “improve on successes and address concerns,” the BOE document says.

The superintendent’s priorities this school year include increasing access to advanced placement and early college courses in high schools, developing protocols for natural disasters or threats to schools, and increasing the percentage of special education students in the general education setting.

In December, Kishimoto’s three-year contract was extended by one year during her mid-year evaluation, in which she was graded as “effective.” It was the first time a school superintendent in Hawaii received a contract extension midway through their tenure. The initial closed-session BOE vote was redone in a public meeting to settle any issues over transparency.

Some BOE members interviewed after the March 7 meeting said they value the input they receive from outside sources, regardless of the fact the people are all chosen by Kishimoto herself.

“We’ve never had this input before, I think it’s healthy,” said Brian De Lima, who asked Kishimoto at the March 7 board meeting to consider adding to her list an advocate for special education students. “You’ve got to take everything with a grain of salt. Every one of these individuals has an interest in the state of public education in Hawaii. Obviously, the board members want the superintendent to succeed.”

Robert Fox, professor emeritus at University of Hawaii Hilo, who served on the state Board of Education from 1992 to 1996 when it was comprised of elected members, recalls that even back then, the evaluation process for the school superintendent was predictable.

“While it was the board evaluating the superintendent, the process was very staff-directed,” Fox said. “The process and criteria were all suggested by members of the (DOE) staff or personnel.

“It was and is my opinion that the Board of Education very much were lay people, whose attention was directed by the superintendent and the associate superintendents. By and large the issues it considered were brought to it either by the superintendent or the result of public outcries that went through the superintendent.”

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author