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Matayoshi chosen as DOE chief

She brings out-of-the-box solutions and a business perspective, supporters say

By Mary Vorsino


Kathryn Matayoshi, who guided the state Department of Education through its successful bid for $75 million in competitive Race to the Top funds and has garnered wide support in the community since stepping in as interim superintendent in January, was chosen yesterday as the permanent head of Hawaii's public schools.

The Board of Education unanimously chose Matayoshi for the job after an hourlong interview in executive session, during which members quizzed her on how she plans to make good on a host of ambitious reforms at the DOE and how she makes up for a lack of experience in education.

She will get a four-year contract, earning $150,000 a year to lead the nation's 10th-largest public school system.

Educators and lawmakers applauded Matayoshi's appointment yesterday, saying she has proven herself as a competent leader who comes with out-of-the-box solutions and a business-minded perspective.

But they added that Matayoshi has her work cut out for her in turning around a school system historically resistant to change and struggling to tackle its fiscal woes.

"The challenge will be there is so much on her plate," said Liz Chun, executive director of the Good Beginnings Alliance.



» Age: 52

» Graduate, Hilo High School
» Bachelor's degree, Carleton College
» Juris Doctorate, University of California, Hastings College of the Law

» Acting and interim Hawaii schools superintendent, 2010
» Deputy schools superintendent, 2009-10
» Hawaii Business Roundtable, 2007-09
» President and CEO, Community Links Hawaii, 2006-07
» Chief of staff, Honolulu Board of Water Supply, 2002-05
» Director, state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, 1995-02

Source: State Department of Education

But Chun added that Matayoshi has already shown she's able to forge new strategic partnerships and rally wide support. "I think her talent is ... gathering support within the community and keeping her eye on what is really important for the state," Chun said.

State Sen. Norman Sakamoto, chairman of the Senate Education and Housing Committee and a candidate for lieutenant governor, said Matayoshi's biggest challenge will probably come after the general election, when a new governor and new Board of Education step in.

Voters will also decide in November whether to switch to a governor-appointed school board, which would mean even more change.

"She and the department will have to build up trust" with whoever is voted in, Sakamoto said, adding, "I'm pleased that the board decided leaving her in place would be a good thing."

After the BOE vote yesterday, a beaming Matayoshi said as superintendent she would keep moving forward on the plans she has helped lay out as the DOE's interim leader, including reforms detailed in the state's Race to the Top proposal.

"We're going to continue the momentum and really push forward on our reform agenda," said Matayoshi, 52. "It's been a team effort."

The Race plans represent some of the biggest changes ever for Hawaii schools, and include efforts to turn around low-performing campuses, raise student achievement and improve teacher effectiveness. And they come as the state is also planning to boost classroom rigor by implementing the national common core standards next school year and toughen graduation requirements, including making Algebra 2 mandatory.

Matayoshi also inherits a department grappling with budget cuts, struggling to meet federal directives and still recovering from shaken public confidence generated by teacher furloughs.

Garrett Toguchi, BOE chairman, said making Matayoshi permanent brings stability to a department making its way through a major transformation in tough fiscal times.

"She's the right person to lead us forward," he said, adding that he's confident Matayoshi will be able to implement "rigorous reforms to prepare students for college and careers."

Matayoshi became interim superintendent in January, following the New Year's Eve departure of former Superintendent Pat Hamamoto, taking over a department with a $1.7 billion budget, 171,000 students and 22,000 full-time employees, including 13,000 teachers.

She joined the DOE in July 2009 as a deputy superintendent to focus on strategic planning and the state's Race to the Top application, but otherwise has no background in education. An attorney, she served as executive director of the Hawaii Business Roundtable and as president and CEO of Community Links Hawaii.

Matayoshi was among 24 applicants from Hawaii and the mainland who sought the superintendent position, but was the only one interviewed.

The board formally kicked off its search for a superintendent this summer, hiring a consultant to guide them through the process. As part of the search, the board asked for input from residents through focus groups and an online survey, completed by 817 people.

"I think what we gained from the survey is Kathy is not off the mark with what people are looking for," said Karen Knudsen, BOE second vice chairwoman.

She added that the board might be criticized for its decision, especially since Matayoshi was the only candidate interviewed.

But Knudsen said she's "very comfortable" with the choice.

"Personally, I was hesitant to change leadership right now, because we're going to have a new governor, we're going to have new board members. There will be so much change throughout the system, I personally felt that we needed a steady leader at the top," Knudsen said.

Matayoshi, she added, "brings executive experience and she knows where her weaknesses are, in terms of education and curriculum, but she also knows where her strengths are."

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