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15 candidates vie for school board on primary ballot

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This story has been corrected.

Twelve people, including a former California schools superintendent and two mothers who protested last school year’s teacher furloughs, are running for three Oahu at-large seats on the state Board of Education.

All of them agree on one thing: Change is long overdue for Hawaii’s public schools.

Change is also coming to the board. Two of the three at-large incumbents, Donna Ikeda and Karen Knudsen, are not seeking re-election.

At-large member Kim Coco Iwamoto is seeking re-election.

The Maui seat is also wide open, as board member Mary Cochran is leaving to run for a vacant Maui County Council seat. Three people are running to succeed her.

In addition, Hawaii voters will be asked to decide in November whether to switch from an elected school board to one appointed by the governor.

If voters approve an appointed board, elected BOE members could serve just a fraction of their four-year term before the next governor’s nominees are installed.

New board members will step in at a time of great flux for the state Department of Education.

The department is planning a host of reforms, thanks to a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant, aimed at turning around low-performing schools, improving teacher effectiveness and boosting student achievement.

The current board is also expected to announce its pick for superintendent in October. Interim Superintendent Kathy Matayoshi is in the running, and has been serving as the schools chief since Jan. 1.

The 12 candidates for the Oahu at-large seats have different ideas about what is needed to improve Hawaii public schools.

Iwamoto supports an independent audit of the Department of Education but points out that independent audits are conducted annually already.

She said the main priorities for the DOE should be data collection and analysis "so that each decision we make maximizes educational opportunities," and "doing whatever it takes" to recruit highly qualified math and science teachers.

Iwamoto, 42, of the Alewa/Puunui area, has served on the board since 2006.

Roberta Mayor, who was interim superintendent of the Oakland, Calif., Unified School District in 2008-09, said the Hawaii teacher furloughs were an "all-time low" for education in Hawaii and prompted her to run.

Mayor, 66, a Hawaii Kai resident, said the DOE should work on improving its image and start telling people about what it does right.

"I think they should have done more to let the public know that there are some very good things going on in the school," said Mayor, who worked for the Hawaii DOE for 24 years before heading to California. "I think the public sees the negatives."

Kailua residents Melanie Bailey, 48, and Kathy Bryant-Hunter, 47, helped lead the parent effort earlier this year to end furloughs and to push for a law to mandate a minimum number of instructional days in Hawaii schools.

Bailey said part of turning around public education in Hawaii must include making it a bigger priority for the state. She also wants to highlight successes in the schools.

"Hawaii in general has never talked with pride about public education," she said. "I think we just need to turn the perception of Hawaii’s schools … and start really believing that we can do it."

Bryant-Hunter said apathy about education in Hawaii needs to end.

"The furloughs affected us personally. It affected the entire community," she said. "It became clear that something went wrong in the decision-making process that would take 17 days away from students."

Roger Takabayashi, a former president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said he applauds recent moves to try to improve student performance, but cautions that raising the bar too high could be setting up some kids for failure.

"Some of the standards I feel are very unrealistic," said Takabayashi, 62, a Moanalua resident. "I believe we have a good public school system. We are offering quality education. How come your child did not take advantage of it?"

Former BOE member Randall Yee is looking to return to the board, saying he feels "like I can do more."

Yee, 51, a Waialae resident, said the department needs to think "out of the box" to reach today’s youth. That could mean setting up schools specializing in different areas of interest, he said, or thinking about ways other than test scores to gauge student achievement.

Pamela Young is an accountant with the city and thinks what the board really needs is someone good with numbers.

"I want to help fix our budget problems," said Young, 54, a Mililani resident. "I find the budget crisis and the teacher furloughs alarming."

Noela Andres-Nance jokingly calls herself the "CFO and COO" of the Nance residence. The 44-year-old mother of four from Foster Village said preparing students for college or careers and improving student achievement will take "campus empowerment, fiscal responsibility and less bureaucracy."

Meanwhile, math tutor Malcolm Kirkpatrick says what is wrong with the school system is compulsory attendance and a statewide board. Kirkpatrick, 44, of Tantalus, runs for the BOE every two years.

"The most effective accountability mechanism humans have yet devised is a policy which gives to unhappy customers the power to take their business elsewhere," said Kirkpatrick, who supports charter schools, subsidized home schooling and credit-by-exam.

Retired librarian Marcia Linville called the board "dysfunctional" and said the DOE is "not providing the education that the people of Hawaii need."

"The number of people who have to go into remediation is unfortunately high," said Linville, 74, a downtown resident.

Candidate Todd Hairgrove agreed, saying the "status quo" needs to end. "Nothing has been done," said Hairgrove, 44, a Waikiki resident. "The schools are still falling apart."

Former state lawmaker Brian Yamane said what is missing from the DOE is accountability. When asked how he would turn around low-performing schools, Yamane, 63, of Kaimuki, said, "I believe that the start is to clean up the current bureaucracy and have clear operating procedures."

He added, "DOE’s fiscal house must be put right before one can plan to improve student achievement."

All Oahu voters may vote for the three Oahu at-large seats, while neighbor island residents will have the Maui BOE race on their ballots.

The Maui candidates are R. Ray Hart, a retired public school teacher; Leona Rocha-Wilson, an entrepreneur and longtime education advocate; and Barry Wurst, a teacher and former small-business owner.

Hart, 67, is pushing for more mentoring to help students decide earlier what career or college path they want to pursue after graduation. He added that turning around low-performing schools is about setting realistic goals and realizing when the problem is "too large to be resolved by the people (already) involved."

Rocha-Wilson, 73, supports providing high school students with a career path option, giving more support to gifted students and highlighting the good things happening at the DOE. She added, in a candidate questionnaire, that "parental involvement is the key issue to student achievement."

Wurst, 63, a 25-year veteran of teaching, said the DOE needs to look within itself to cut wasteful spending, including programs that are duplicated or failing. He also said improving literacy will go a long way toward boosting student achievement. "We must ardently pursue improved reading," he said.

The top two vote-getters for each seat advance to the Nov. 2 general election.

The candidates for the BOE Windward Oahu seat, incumbent John Penebacker and Valzey Freitas, advance directly to the general election and will not be on the Sept. 18 primary ballot.

Incumbent Eileen Clarke was the only candidate for the Central Oahu seat. By state law she was deemed automatically elected and will not appear on the ballot.



Board of Education incumbent Kim Coco Iwamoto supports an independent audit of the Department of Education but points out that independent audits are conducted annually already. A Page A20 article did not make clear that Iwamoto was aware of audits currently conducted of the DOE. The online version has been updated.


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