The search for a permanent superintendent is coming to a close as the Board of Education is expected to vote Thursday on three candidates vying to lead one of the the largest school districts in the nation.

The finalists for the superintendent position are Darrel Galera, a long-time education leader in Hawaii; Caprice Young, president of an education consulting group in Los Angeles; and interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi, who has led the department since Aug. 1.

Education advocates are looking for someone who will hit reset on a department that has stagnated for decades and seen little progress in improving state assessments in math, reading and science amid setbacks suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new superintendent will need to navigate Hawaii’s complex, single-district system and be able to work with various stakeholder groups including parents, students, the powerful teachers’ union and state lawmakers who control the department’s nearly $2 billion operating budget. The annual salary for the superintendent is up to $250,000.

A report from an advisory group that interviewed the three finalists, who were chosen from a pool of 35 applicants, lays out the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Interim DOE Superintendent Keith Hayashi speaks at press conference held at Prince David Kawananakoa Middle School.
Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi has been leading the Department of Education since Aug. 1. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Hayashi has a broad range of experience in the DOE and spoke of using data in his work, but couldn’t link how those measurements are connected to policy and made “very minimal mention of innovation or urgency for change and growth,” the report said.

It noted that Galera also has much experience both in the DOE and in the private sector. He spoke of transforming the educational system but didn’t articulate how that would specifically happen.

Young has a strong background in public finance, education and running large bureaucracies in both the public and private sectors. But she faces a steep learning curve if selected since she is not from Hawaii.

“If you’re happy with how things are going, you want (Hayashi). If you want someone who is going to understand how to better spend money in an almost private sector way, maybe you want (Young),” said Jim Shon, a former state lawmaker who is an education policy expert. He added Galera may be seen as a safe middle choice.

Hitting Reset

Avoiding the same mistakes the past two superintendents made in their tenures will be paramount for the next superintendent, who will oversee 294 schools with about 171,000 students and more than 21,000 employees.

The BOE appointed Kathryn Matayoshi to head the department in 2010 but declined to renew her contract in 2016. Matayoshi, a lawyer who worked for years as a government administrator, had limited experience as an educator. She faced criticism from school principals over initiatives dealing with student learning and a controversial teacher evaluation system.

Dept of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto DOE press conference announcing pay increases for special needs students and other teachers.
Former DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto stepped down last June amid criticism over her leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

In 2017, the BOE selected Christina Kishimoto, who was never a teacher but had experience running educational systems on the mainland. She spoke often about empowering schools to make their own decisions.

But critics say she never adapted to Hawaii’s culture and never learned how to manage the department’s relationship with the Legislature, which holds the DOE’s purse strings.

Facing union-led criticism over her handling of the pandemic, Kishimoto stepped down after her contract expired on July 31.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association President Osa Tui Jr. said the union would like more cooperation from whoever is chosen to lead the education department.

“We don’t want to see the new superintendent unwilling to collaborate and work with the teachers, and address the issues that we see continually happening in our schools and ways to fix them,” Tui said.

Wendy Nakasone-Kalani, president of advocacy group Parents For Public Schools in Hawaii, said the superintendent also “needs to be sensitive to the unique needs of students, families, teachers and staff.”

In her view, a teaching background isn’t necessary but is preferred for the superintendent position.

Ray L’Hereux, a former DOE official who worked under Matayoshi and now runs an educational think tank, said the next superintendent needs a clear mind for business and must be able to articulate how the department uses its operating budget.

For the first time, the BOE will interview the candidates in public as they appear one by one in the boardroom. Deliberations and the final vote also will be broadcast. Members of the public may attend the meeting in person and it will be broadcast on the board’s website via WebEx.

Amid growing tensions from parents upset that the indoor mask mandate for schools has been extended for summer activities, the board plans to have security on standby to prevent any disruption at Thursday’s meeting. The anti-masks groups, Aloha Freedom Coalition and We the People, plan to rally outside of the board’s Honolulu headquarters.

Meet The Candidates

Young, who is the president of the Los Angeles-based Education Growth Group, is the only candidate from the mainland. She previously led the California Charter School Association and served as president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education.

Her teaching experience is limited to higher education, as she taught education leadership to doctoral students at the University of California Los Angeles.

She also was assistant deputy mayor and acting budget director in Los Angeles, making her responsible for a multi-billion dollar transportation budget.

Caprice Young is a candidate for the Hawaii Department of Education superintendent position.
Caprice Young is a candidate for the Hawaii Department of Education superintendent position. Courtesy: Caprice Young

Young said she may not be from Hawaii, but she has a deep personal connection to the state since her parents moved here in 1995. Her mother was a special education teacher at Kalihi Elementary School while her father was a minister.

She stressed engagement with the community as a priority.

“I have always had an orientation towards listening and understanding first, and I really believe that stakeholder engagement and community engagement is the key to being able to improve programs in schools,” she said in an interview. “So you can expect that I will be out in the school, not just on Oahu, but throughout Hawaii regularly.”

Young calls herself a problem-solver and says if selected as the superintendent, she would meet regularly with state lawmakers and with the BOE.

“We have to be thinking about social services and mental health at the same time as we’re thinking about education. That was one of the biggest learnings from the pandemic,” she said.

Young also applied for the superintendent position in school districts in Nevada and Florida but didn’t get the jobs.

“This is something that I’ve been working on for more than a decade, but I only applied to a few superintendencies (and) only in places where I felt that I had an enormous amount to give,” she said.

Darrel Galera, left, is a candidate vying for the Department of Education superintendent position. Courtesy: Governor's Office

Galera has more than three decades of experience in education leadership roles in Hawaii. He’s a former BOE member and served as deputy district superintendent for Leeward Oahu.

He declined to be interviewed for this story but responded to questions in an email. In 2017, he applied for the superintendent position but withdrew his application amid concerns that he had an unfair advantage as a former BOE member.

He also worked with Gov. David Ige on creating the Hawaii Blueprint for Public Education in 2017. Galera currently serves as a leadership consultant and executive coach for principals and vice principals and other educators.

Galera said his desire for the job was “driven by a vision of Hawaii becoming the top public education system in the nation.”

In his application, Galera said he would end the teacher shortage, accelerate equity for English learners and create new resources and programs for parents and communities.

In response to a question from Civil Beat about how he would implement his proposals, Galera said: “I do not have enough time to respond to this question.”

DOE Department of Education board meeting.
The Board of Education is expected to vote on the superintendent publicly on Thursday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Galera also said he believes that the superintendent serves the BOE since the board is in charge of setting policies across the DOE system.

He said if he was selected as the superintendent, he would “seek to form strong relationships to provide the highest levels of support and teamwork to serve the board and the department.”

Hayashi, who was Waipahu High principal before becoming interim superintendent, has 33 years of experience in the DOE system, serving as a teacher, district resource teacher, intermediate and high school vice principal, intermediate and high school principal and the complex area superintendent.

Hayashi said he wants to take advantage of increased federal and state funding to support the department. Observers and the stakeholder advisory group have noted that Hayashi appears unwilling to change much. But he denies that he would be the status quo candidate.

“I’m not about the status quo. I can tell you that we will push to work together with stakeholders to see how we can innovate programs we look at through the pandemic,” Hayashi said in an interview.

Hayashi noted some of his accomplishments as Waipahu High principal including initiating the construction of the state’s first research observatory at a high school campus and the first academic health center on a high school campus in the country.

Hayashi is running on a nine-month track record as interim superintendent, focusing on reopening all of the public schools for in-person instruction and invoking a school code to allow non-instructional staff to fill in some classrooms.

“We did what we needed to do to innovate and address the various challenges that came up along the way to ensure we kept our schools open,” Hayashi said. “There may have been a situation here or there that we would have to transition a school temporarily, but not more than a week.”

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