The state Board of Education has decided to partially outsource the search for a new superintendent by using $150,000 in local grant money to hire a national nonprofit to help find candidates to fill the role on a permanent basis.

The board will vote on Thursday to accept grant funds from the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation and The Learning Coalition to enlist the National Association of State Boards of Education to facilitate the search, according to the agenda for the upcoming meeting.

If the arrangement moves forward, the timeframe for the search for a permanent superintendent will be delayed from the board’s original plan, which was to begin accepting applications in October and to make a final decision by March.

Interim DOE Superintendent Keith Hayashi speaks at press conference held at Prince David Kawananakoa Middle School.
Interim DOE Superintendent, Keith Hayashi, has spent the initial part of the 2021-22 school year emphasizing the full and safe return of students to in-person classes. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Instead, the board plans to open the job application window in March, start interviews in April and select the new superintendent by May. This is to allow additional time to articulate the desired qualities in the next superintendent and the desired outcomes and goals of their tenure.

“We originally thought it would take much less time, but as we really thought it through and what needed to be done, it was very clear we needed to have a good amount of time,” Board of Education chairwoman Catherine Payne said about the search. “We need to have facilitation from NASBE in helping us narrow down what we’re looking for.”

Keith Hayashi has been leading the DOE as interim superintendent since Aug. 1 after the former school chief Christina Kishimoto stepped down following four years on the job. Kishimoto opted not to seek renewal of her contract amid union criticism over her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hayashi, formerly the Waipahu High principal, has indicated he is interested in the permanent role, but he would still have to apply.

“We will not exclude anyone from consideration,” Payne said Monday in an interview. “One of the things that is very important is to find someone who meets the expectations of those who live here in the community.”

The Board of Education, whose members are volunteers appointed by the governor, is charged with selecting and evaluating the school superintendent.

The board said in a May memo that “unlike the search process in 2017” it didn’t want to rely on local foundation funding so as “to eliminate any real or perceived third-party influence on the search process,” with the caveat it may have to reconsider that decision for time or financial reasons.

“We originally thought it would take much less time.” — BOE Chairwoman Catherine Payne

In the 2017 search, the BOE had received funding from the Castle Foundation to help find a new school chief to replace Kathryn Matayoshi.

But the foundation withdrew its $50,500 grant after raising concerns over what it felt was a rigged process, when then-BOE member Darrel Galera resigned from his seat to apply for the role. The foundation reinstated the grant after Galera decided not to apply. The education executive management firm Ray and Associates was eventually hired to oversee the search.

In this round, the Alexandria, Va.-based NASBE would work with the board to help set the criteria for the new superintendent, expand the search pool nationally, help write the job description and advertise the position.

The pandemic has reshaped the responsibilities of school district leaders, including demonstrating that they need to be prepared for a sudden crisis or making sure schools are offering enough remote instruction alternatives to families.

NASBE president and CEO Robert Hull said the organization would help design the comprehensive process for the selection.

“We do all the pre-work; we do not call it headhunting,” he said in an interview Monday.

“We rely on what research says: a huge body on what makes an effective leader and what are those traits,” he added. “We share all of that research with the state board.”

Any formalized agreement between the board and NASBE would last through August. Through the $150,000 grant, the association would also help the BOE set goals for the next superintendent’s first year and come up with an annual evaluation process in line with the DOE’s next strategic plan.

The superintendent plays a crucial role in leading Hawaii’s single-district public school system, which has roughly 22,000 full-time employees, 159,500 students and 257 schools.

State lawmakers have urged the board to prioritize a candidate with local ties to the islands.

During the search for an interim superintendent, five finalists emerged from 14 candidates, including retired DOE administrators and the former teachers’ union president.

“As we move forward (with the search for a permanent person), my personal feeling is, that it will be … someone who has a deep understanding and aloha for this community, for this state,” said Payne.

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