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New DOE chief cause for hope

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The state school board’s selection of Kathryn Matayoshi as permanent superintendent to head the embattled Department of Education clears the way for reform of Hawaii’s public school system to begin in earnest. It was a logical and timely decision because the DOE needs a steady hand at the helm for what is sure to be a tumultuous period of change.

Matayoshi has served as interim superintendent for eight months and helped to shepherd the successful application for critically needed federal dollars in the Race to the Top competition. That surely was a key credential toward gaining a lock on the superintendent’s job, but it’s not Matayoshi’s only advantage. Unlike her predecessors of recent years, she was not drawn from any education establishment.

For two years before her interim appointment, she directed the Hawaii Business Roundtable, working with the DOE on strengthening its graduation requirements. Her resume encompasses leadership roles with the nonprofit Community Links Hawaii and the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs from 1995 to 2002, as well as independent work as a strategic planning consultant.

That background is welcome in a department that has a reputation for being too insular and resistant to change. And if ever there was a time for a change agent at the DOE, it is this moment when political and economic realities appear aligned, and everyone seems ready to embrace something other than business as usual.

For starters, Matayoshi is likely to have a more committed partner in a new governor. In this election cycle, a pledge to work more closely with the DOE has been a common element.

And nationally, Race to the Top funds are the carrot being dangled by the Obama administration to entice school administrations to try a new approach, millions of dollars available just when the recession has sapped the local taxpaying base of resources beyond the absolute essentials.

Now the state will have $75 million to invest in a clear strategic plan the new superintendent helped develop. The money should help the DOE make progress, long overdue, toward key goals:

» Improving academic standards and assessments for students.

» Finish developing the DOE data system for tracking student growth and success.

» Drawing top-performing teachers to help turn around low-achieving schools.

» Finding better ways to reward and retain effective teachers, linking their evaluation in part to the results they’re getting from students.

Matayoshi’s attributes include her background in business and law and a robust network of links with the community, in both the for-profit and the nonprofit sectors. She will need to draw on every ounce of that experience and those connections to steer the DOE toward greater effectiveness and Hawaii’s children toward academic success.

 

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