For the first time, the public will be able to watch as the Hawaii Board of Education interviews the three finalists, then votes for a new superintendent next week amid calls for state boards to operate more transparently.

The BOE has until June to make a decision, but the chairwoman said the plan is to vote on May 19 after the finalist interviews.

“The board plans to deliberate and vote following the interviews on May 19,” Chair Catherine Payne said Wednesday in an interview. “Our intention is to name the next superintendent at the conclusion of the meeting.”

The decision comes after criticism over delays in the selection process as the school system has been run by an interim leader since the former superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, stepped down last summer.

The three finalists include interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi, former BOE member Darrel Galera and Caprice Young, president of an education consulting group in Los Angeles.

DOE Department of Education board meeting.
The Board of Education plans to choose a new superintendent next week, the chair says, nearly a year after the selection process began. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The candidates will be interviewed one by one in the boardroom at BOE headquarters in Honolulu. Members of the public may attend the meeting in person and it will be broadcast on the board’s website via WebEx.

Payne said all nine board members will be present at the meeting. The candidates will be asked to present a scenario that will be given ahead of time. That will be followed by a questions and answers session.

It’s the first time the process will be open to the public, following a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling that barred boards and commissions from holding closed meetings unless they prove they are protecting a legitimate privacy interest.

Previously the deliberations and interviews would be conducted in private.

“It’s the first time it’s ever been done,” Payne said. “I do feel the weight of that responsibility to make sure that it’s done so that both the public, the constituents and the candidates all feel that they were treated with fairness and dignity.”

The next superintendent will be in charge of leading Hawaii’s 160,000-student, single-district public school system, in addition to managing a budget of more than $2 billion. The salary is up to $250,000 a year.

Challenges include navigating the politics of powerful unions representing teachers and principals as well as the relationship with the Legislature, which controls the education budget.

Kishimoto, a native of New York who assumed the helm of Hawaii’s DOE in 2017, stepped down after her contract expired on July 31 amid union-led criticism over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

With a budget that big, the next superintendent must also be business savvy, according to Ray L’Heureux, who leads the Education Institute of Hawaii, a think tank that advocates for public schools in the state.

“Almost somebody CEO-like, and yes, education is absolutely at the forefront of a lot of the decisions of those who have delivered education,” said L’Heureux, a former assistant superintendent.

L’Heureux praised the BOE for taking the superintendent process public.

“I’m very encouraged that there’s transparency because they’ve lost the confidence of the public,” he said, pointing out the public equals parents and taxpayers. “So the fact that they’re being a little bit more transparent is a step in the right direction.”

In 2017, state lawmakers expressed disappointment when the board failed to choose any local candidates as finalists, according to Hawaii News Now.

This year is different as only one of the three finalists, who were selected from a pool of 35 candidates, is from the mainland.

Hayashi, a former Waipahu High principal, has been leading the department since Aug. 1. He has a 33-year career with the department.

Galera is a long-time educator with more than three decades of educational leadership roles in Hawaii.

Young, the president of the Los Angeles-based Education Growth Group, is the only finalist from the mainland. In her cover letter, Young acknowledged that she’s not from Hawaii, but said she has ties to the islands through her immediate family.

Kevin Kumashiro, a San Francisco-based educational scholar who specializes in policy, said more accountability and transparency is important in the selection process of superintendents. He said nationally it’s the norm for school districts to select superintendents behind closed doors.

He added it may be insightful for the public to see what the board may be looking for in a candidate, in addition to the criteria, the questions asked, the answers given and what their vision is for the schools.

“Too often we see both within the K-12 realm and how we select chancellors and presidents of universities often go through this behind the scenes process,” he said. “It’s not a very democratic process. We don’t see how people are making decisions, and what we often see is people who failed at one spot simply get recycled into other spaces.”

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