Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi was selected to lead Hawaii’s public schools after a heated daylong meeting on Thursday that was frequently disrupted by protesters.

The Board of Education chose Hayashi from a pool of three finalists who faced a public interview and deliberation process for the first time. He will oversee 294 schools with more than 21,000 employees, earning a salary of up to $250,000.

Hayashi, the former principal at Waipahu High School, will still need to clear a background check and his contract will be finalized by the board.

He promised to work with the BOE to develop a strategic plan to move the public schools forward and to maintain open communication.

“This means a great deal and honor to have the opportunity to lead our public schools in Hawaii. I know that all of us, working together, will make a difference in the lives of each and every one of our students,” Hayashi said.

Interim DOE Superintendent Keith Hayashi speaks at press conference held at Prince David Kawananakoa Middle School.
Keith Hayashi was selected as the permanent superintendent for the Department of Education. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Chair Catherine Payne acknowledged his dedication for the students.

“The support you had from the field was very strong, and I’m sure there will be challenges ahead as you try to bring in all the diverse folks together to really focus on what’s really important – the children of our state and the education they receive,” Payne said.

The public had a full view Friday into how the superintendent will navigate Hawaii’s 171,000-student, single-district school system, work with various stakeholder groups including the teachers’ union, parents and state lawmakers who control the department’s nearly $2 billion operating budget.

However, tensions were high at the nearly 13-hour meeting as dozens of protesters interrupted the proceedings. Most of the opposition was directed toward Hayashi, who has overseen the schools since Aug. 1 as campuses reopened for in-person learning but maintained Covid-19 restrictions.

Many of the protesters were angered by the extension of the indoor mask mandate for summer school activities and what some said was a lack of communication. Hawaii has dropped mask mandates elsewhere.

Protesters yelled during the interview process, threatened the board and pounded their fists on the podium, forcing the board to pause the meeting at least three times amid the disruptions. Eight sheriffs were on standby.

It’s been a nearly yearlong search after former Superintendent Christina Kishimoto stepped down at the end of July amid criticism over her leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.

Board members, for the first time, publicly deliberated for more than three hours after the three finalists were interviewed.

Hayashi was competing against Caprice Young, president of an education consulting group in Los Angeles; and Darrel Galera, a long-time education leader in Hawaii.

The board narrowed it down to Young and Hayashi, then voted 8-1 in favor of Hayashi, with Vice Chair Kenneth Umera as the lone “no.”

Public packed into the DOE Board of Education meeting today.
The public was given a chance to testify during the BOE meeting to select a new superintendent. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Nearly each member said it was the toughest decision they had to make, saying they wished they could mold the candidates into one superintendent. Some members said that Hayashi and Galera have knowledge about Hawaii’s institutions while Caprice could bring an outside perspective.

The board based their decision on 11 issues, including how the superintendent will build relationships with stakeholders, implement management and educational reforms and commit to developing a competitive education curriculum.

Payne said no matter what, the next superintendent will face resistance, but noted that the superintendent will have to navigate the Legislature.

Kaleo Nakoa, a father of four, testified against Hayashi during the meeting, citing a “lack of trust.”

Nakoa didn’t say which candidate he would support, but said he wants the parents to have a say in who should lead the public schools.

“If they gave us, the parents and the teachers, the chance to choose, I think it would’ve been handled differently,” Nakoa said in an interview. “We should pay attention more because we’ll know that our voices will be heard instead of leaving it up to the board who obviously won’t make eye contact with anyone. They turn their backs on us when we talk.”

More than 130 written testimonies were submitted, with most supporting Hayashi. Most of the in-person testimony in support of Hayashi came from DOE officials who said that Hayashi earned their trust.

Sean Tajima, a complex superintendent for the Campbell-Kapolei area, said Hayashi is “always grounded in what’s best for students, and is a strategic thinker, with big vision.”

“Keith understands Hawaii’s culture,” Tajima said. “He’s a local boy, a Hawaii public school graduate, and a Hawaii public school leader.”

“As interim superintendent, he led through an unprecedented transition from distance learning to full in-person learning, while implementing strategies that prevented the spread of Covid in schools, implemented strategies to address everyone’s socio-emotional well being and always kept academic achievement through the forefront,” he added.

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