The Hawaii Board of Education gained a new member, effective Monday — a former teacher and principal in Hawaii’s school system who also served as a state lawmaker and was once a candidate for lieutenant governor.

Lyla Berg, who took the oath of office on Monday, will make her first appearance as a board member during a meeting on Thursday. The agenda includes discussion about the Department of Education’s plans to accelerate learning for children who have fallen behind during the Covid-19 pandemic and the use of federal aid dollars.

In a phone interview, Berg, who served as a Democratic House representative for District 18 from 2004 to 2010 and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2010, said her interest in filling the board seat derives from a “passion and interest in the children” and conversations she has had with friends whose grandchildren are now school-age.

Department of Education board meeting.
The Board of Education consists of nine voting members. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

“From their perspective, every school is doing something different; there doesn’t appear to be clarity, or consistency,” she said.

“The lack of clarity is making everyone more scared and increasing the lack of trust in the system,” added Berg, who was the principal of Kailua Intermediate from 1985 to 1990 when she was just 35 years old. She also was a vice-principal at Molokai High and Intermediate from 1982 to 1984. “Let me go on the inside and see how I can help calm the waters.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Berg was principal of Kailua High.

Berg, 70, will fill the board seat once occupied by Dwight Takeno, whose term expired in July. Due to a lack of sufficient candidates at the time, Ige did not submit any names to the Senate for confirmation before it adjourned. While Berg’s appointment is just interim for now, she said she would be open to considering a full three-year term.

“My impetus to apply was to be of service this school year, because it’s so critical where we are now,” she said.

The nine-member state Board of Education is composed of gubernatorial appointments who serve on an unpaid, voluntary basis for three-year terms and must be confirmed by the Senate.

Gov. David Ige’s office did not release any advance information about Berg’s interim appointment — as it typically does with permanent appointments. But the fact that Berg was selected as an interim appointment appeared on an upcoming Board of Education agenda item.

Ige’s spokeswoman, Cindy McMillan, said Monday that Berg’s name will be sent to the Senate during the 2022 session for confirmation and that she would have the same voting rights as other board members during this interim basis.

Lyla Berg, Board of Education
Newest interim BOE member Lyla Berg says she wants to “help calm the waters.” 

Board members’ main tasks consist of overseeing the Hawaii DOE when it comes to policymaking actions and selecting and evaluating the superintendent. That post is occupied by interim superintendent Keith Hayashi until a search for a permanent hire is completed.

Berg said she hopes the next superintendent — whether it is Hayashi or someone else — “would bring educational background and not just theory.”

“The willingness to work with board members and various role groups, to articulate a particular vision for education in Hawaii that doesn’t change with who’s elected into office,” she elaborated.

Berg, currently the host of the “Island Focus” show on Olelo Community Media and owner of Lyla Berg and Associates, a consultancy that provides leadership coaching, is a Honolulu resident and president-elect of the Rotary Club of Honolulu.

Board chairwoman Catherine Payne’s three-year term also expired at the end of June after her re-nomination was pulled without explanation by the governor. She is also serving on a holdover basis through at least the end of June.

Payne praised the addition of Berg to the board, saying it’s “important to have representative voices who offer varied experiences and expertise.”

“Vacancies make the conduct of board business more challenging, and even one missing member can slow down decision-making if we are not able to secure votes for or in opposition to the action,” she added.

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