The state Board of Education has hired a consultant to gauge what the community thinks are the primary qualities to be sought in a new superintendent of public schools.
That might help, if only marginally, in meeting the short-term goal of finding a permanent replacement for former schools chief Pat Hamamoto, a job now held by Interim Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.
Ordinarily voters might expect BOE members to know already what’s required. But if they’re serious about educational reform, the top job should be redefined. Spending a reasonable sum to take the pulse of the community would be a worthy investment.
On the larger mission of improving the state’s public school system, larger hurdles await.
Gov. Linda Lingle is contemplating a veto of a needed measure to improve the pay scale for such an important position. Senate Bill 2434 — which includes a $10,000 boost in salary to $160,000, with a hefty incentive of an annual performance bonus building to a $90,000 maximum — is on the potential veto list.
Should the governor kill this measure, lawmakers need to muster the necessary two-thirds vote to override it.
Details on how the performance bonus is awarded are still to be worked out by the board, but the general guidelines in the bill seem right. Student achievement measures will be part of the performance review, as it should be — as long as the BOE uses a well-established and respected yardstick such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Other criteria would include leadership abilities, demonstrated through managing employees under superintendent supervision; community relations skills; and "targeted outcomes" agreed on by the board and the superintendent.
The current salary cap of $150,000 is insufficient to attract the best talent. According to the American Association of School Administrators data, the mean contract salary for a superintendent of a school district of 25,000 or more children is just under $212,000.
With Hawaii’s public school student enrollment of 178,649 last year, clearly the state’s top school administrator deserves something more commensurate with the challenge.
Finally, the true assignment for the BOE is to help drive the state’s school system closer to one that can prepare students for further academic achievement or, in general, for skills that meet 21st century demands and qualify them for jobs that deliver a living wage.
That will require more than simply a change of command in the top office. The state Department of Education needs to become less bureaucratically centralized, with greater accountability and control at the community and school level. There needs to be room for innovation, and teacher incentives and pay linked to the success of their students.
All this restructuring needs to start with the school board itself. If voters decide to replace the elected board with one that’s appointed by and accountable to the governor, there could be an opportunity to draft educators and community leaders who are up to the task.
However they are ultimately chosen, school boards members will have their work cut out for them — building a school system set up for real progress.