A selection committee led by the Board of Education chairwoman has named a high school principal and veteran administrator as its choice to lead Hawaii’s public schools when they fully reopen in the fall after more than a year of mostly online classes during the pandemic.

Waipahu High School Principal Keith Hayashi, who must still be approved by the full board next month, would take over as interim superintendent on Aug. 1 while the board conducts a more robust search for a permanent superintendent expected to be selected sometime next spring.

The new interim superintendent will replace Christina Kishimoto, who has served in the role for four years but decided not to seek a new term once her contract is up at the end of July.

Hawaii Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto at presser held at the BOE building. 7 june 2017
Keith Hayashi, right, who has been nominated to serve as interim DOE superintendent, already has experience in the role. He took over for a month in 2017 during the transition before outgoing Christina Kishimoto began her tenure. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

Hayashi, Waipahu’s principal since 2009, has had the job before. He took the reins for the month of July in 2017 to bridge the time between former superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi’s departure and Kishimoto’s start date.

BOE chairwoman Catherine Payne said she and other members of the advisory committee, including board members Margaret Cox, Dwight Takeno and Bruce Voss, believed Hayashi was “the best candidate to meet the critical challenges facing our schools over the next few months.”

“He has experience as a teacher, principal, complex area superintendent, interim deputy superintendent, and, briefly, as an acting state superintendent,” Payne said. “I am confident that he is the right person to lead our schools during the difficult months ahead.”

The Department of Education superintendent oversees Hawaii’s single district K-12 school system of 294 schools and roughly 174,000 total students, plus 22,000 personnel including some 13,500 teachers.

Aside from the full reopening of classrooms, the DOE must leverage a massive amount of federal COVID-19 relief funds to support students who fell behind during the pandemic while bracing for an anticipated $124 million funding gap for the 2021-23 fiscal biennium.

Hayashi beat out a field of 14 candidates, including the outgoing president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association Corey Rosenlee, who was among Kishimoto’s fiercest critics. Five finalists were granted an interview, according to a memo posted Friday. The BOE was due to vote on the recommendation during its June 17 general business meeting.

Who is Hayashi?

Hayashi has long been praised, including by Kishimoto as recently as several months ago, for his leadership of one of the state’s largest high schools, which has an enrollment of roughly 2,800.

Waipahu High’s career academy program that allows students to select a specific pathway to help groom skills in a certain industry is seen as a leading model in the state while its Early College program, in which high schoolers may accrue college credit before graduating, has won accolades from Gov. David Ige and other state leaders.

A graduate of Kaimuki High and the University of Hawaii, Hayashi also served as the complex area superintendent for Pearl City-Waipahu and was named the Hawaii High School Principal of the Year in 2014.

He currently makes somewhere between $138,790 and $196,470 annually as a high school principal; the advisory committee recommended that the interim superintendent earn $210,000 per year.

“I am confident that he is the right person to lead our schools during the difficult months ahead.” — BOE chairwoman Catherine Payne

The interim superintendent will serve until a permanent replacement is in place, which is likely to be“through at least March 2022” according to the BOE’s specifications, though “the exact service period will heavily depend on other circumstances.”

The job description called for an interim leader able to address learning loss and the social-emotional needs of students; develop and communicate clear and timely plans to promote safe in-person learning; and who can “restore trust and confidence in leadership through clear, timely, and transparent guidance and communication” to parents, students and staff.

The board also sought someone with a deep understanding of Hawaii’s educational system; who can develop strong relationships with people inside and outside the DOE and with stakeholders; and develop an “empathetic organizational culture.”

The interim superintendent was not precluded from applying for the longer-term role but that will be done through a separate search process involving an outside firm.

With the COVID-19 pandemic easing thanks to a mass vaccination ramp-up that now includes kids as young as 12, the school system appears to be heading toward a sense of normalcy.

Kishimoto, a Bronx native who has not yet announced her future plans, has said all DOE schools will be fully reopened by the new school year, and the union didn’t object since at least 11,000 teachers have been fully vaccinated.

Kishimoto’s final year of leadership was buffeted with criticism by the union and other stakeholders as she failed to clearly articulate a plan to reopen schools or provide a quality distance learning curriculum for students at the height of the public health crisis.

So tenuous was her public reception over the last year that state lawmakers got involved, pushing a bill through this past session that would require the BOE to prioritize a local candidate who had spent at least a decade in the DOE to lead the schools.

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