The incoming interim Hawaii school superintendent gave educators a glimpse of his vision for the upcoming academic year in a brief video greeting.

Keith Hayashi, who will replace Christina Kishimoto as school chief on Sunday, said he will prioritize attendance, academics and social-emotional learning for students as well as staff well-being and the safe return to schools for everyone.

“I’m committed to getting timely information and clear communication out to the field to help with decision-making and making sure our schools are equipped with the appropriate resources,” Hayashi said in the video released Wednesday by the Department of Education.

Waipahu High Principal Keith Hayashi
Incoming DOE interim superintendent Keith Hayashi outlined his broad strategy for the new school year. Screenshot

The veteran administrator, who will vacate his most recent post as the Waipahu High School principal, will lead the DOE until the Board of Education names a more permanent replacement for Kishimoto. She is stepping down after declining to seek a renewal of her contract, which expires at the end of the month.

Hayashi said focusing on those three student needs will help “create a new baseline for our actual plans” and help “strategically match resources to actual needs.”

“This is a starting point. There is so much work to do but we’ll get it done together,” he said.

Hayashi steps into his new role as Hawaii’s 257 schools plan to welcome all students back to campus starting Tuesday after more than a year-and-a-half of disrupted schooling. The COVID-19 pandemic forced campus closures and a shift to remote learning, with many students struggling to adapt to the new online environment.

Hayashi said attendance was a critical factor in reengaging kids.

“We need to focus our energy on making sure every student has the opportunity to return to the classroom and start making up for lost instructional time,” he said.

Hawaii’s public schools will be welcoming back K-12 students at a time new case counts are surging in the state, with 622 new cases recorded Friday, though a time lag means the daily average over the last three days was 314 cases.

State Department of Health Director Libby Char said children accounted for roughly a quarter of the 622 cases.

“It’s a trade-off, having kids in school,” Char said on the Star-Advertiser Spotlight program Friday. “I’d be concerned about sending my kid back, but at this point I’m very comfortable with it and I think we’ve done a lot of things to keep them safe.”

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