Hawaii school superintendent Christina Kishimoto, in Washington, D.C., this week for the Council of Chief State School Officers’ annual legislative conference, got in the last question to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a Q&A session.

Kishimoto asked about the issue of recruiting and retaining teachers, not just in Hawaii but all over the country, according to a write-up of the discussion by Alyson Klein of Education Week.

“I had that challenge in two other districts where I was a superintendent,” Kishimoto said to DeVos. “But I had states to take teachers from, which doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. Now I’m in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and there’s nowhere to take teachers from,” she added, drawing some light laughter.

Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto speaks during DOE board meeting.
Hawaii education superintendent Christina Kishimoto is in Washington, D.C. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kishimoto, who led school districts in Hartford, Connecticut, and Gilbert, Arizona before coming to Hawaii in August 2017, added that the number of people in teacher preparation programs in Hawaii “in spite of lots of incentives, is about one third of the number of teachers we need annually.”

She asked DeVos how the U.S. Education Department is trying to address this challenge, “to really get at the heart of teacher recruitment and retention for isolated districts … and across the board.”

DeVos, addressing Kishimoto by her first name, thanked her for the question and said what she thinks needs to happen is to “elevate the profession” and affirm teachers in a way that “gives them more autonomy and freedom to let them do what they do best.”

“I think that teaching in general has kind of gotten a bad beating over the years and we have not focused on ways to continue to encourage those who are particularly effective as classroom teachers and perhaps encourage some who may be better in a different profession, to find that profession more quickly,” DeVos said.

Prior to fielding questions from state school leaders, DeVos discussed states’ plans under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and her administration’s proposals to expand school choice.

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