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School board needs new energy

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These are interesting times for candidates for the state Board of Education.

A new superintendent and $75 million in federal Race to the Top money offer the promise of a fresh start for Hawaii’s public schools after the embarrassment of Furlough Fridays.

But this could well be the last time voters get to elect members to the BOE, which sets policy for the Department of Education, if a constitutional amendment passes to replace the elected board with a governor-appointed one.

Six seats on the 14-member board (one is a student member selected by peers) will be filled on Nov. 2, and voters’ choices will be important as the DOE plans a host of reforms aimed at turning around low-performing schools, improving teacher effectiveness and boosting student achievement while also trying to meet rising federal standards and preparing for a nationally standardized core curriculum.

The Star-Advertiser believes the BOE will be best served in this critical year by fresh thought and diverse approaches and has identified candidates we think are deserving of your vote.

That said, we encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself, especially if you’re a parent of a public-school student. Our wholehearted endorsement toward that effort goes to Olelo Community Media, an excellent online resource for a race in which candidates may not be well known or have the resources to otherwise publicize their bids. Taped messages from more than 160 candidates in contests around the state — including nine for the BOE — can be viewed at:

For Oahu’s three at-large seats, we endorse Kim Coco Iwamoto, Randall Yee and Melanie Bailey.

» Iwamoto, a lawyer seeking her second term, was an early and vocal opponent of the state budget cuts that eventually resulted in Furlough Fridays and has earned a reputation as a strong advocate to students as well as teachers.

» Yee, a lawyer who was BOE chairman in 2006, sits on the state’s Charter School Review Panel, which advocates for Hawaii’s community-based schools. He could offer valuable input on charters and other alternative strategies, such as specialized academies within schools.

» Bailey, the human resources manager at Duke’s in Waikiki with a son in public school, stepped up during the outcry over teacher furloughs and became one of the parent activists who spurred the Legislature to pass House Bill 2486, which sets a minimum of 180 instructional days per year.

For the Leeward Oahu seat vacated by outgoing BOE chairman Breene Harimoto, who won an uncontested City Council race, Maralyn Kurshals is our choice.

Kurshals, who works at the Leeward Oahu Family Guidance Center, has been a strong advocate of education on the Leeward Coast for years. She is a proponent of early-childhood education and reading who has helped organize free book giveaways in Waianae and won the support of community leaders such as state Rep. Maile Shimabukuro.

For the Windward Oahu seat, Valzey Freitas, a program coordinator for the Kaneohe Community Family Center and a former substitute teacher, earns our endorsement over incumbent John Penebacker.

Freitas offers a fresh outlook and personal involvement as the mother of two teenagers attending public school. She wants to see schools create policies that engage parents and involve them in their children’s education.

Penebacker says he has either been on the board or worked for the board for the last 30 years. We think it’s time for a change.

For Maui’s seat, we endorse R. Ray Hart, a retired public school teacher with 40 years of experience, over businesswoman Leona Rocha-Wilson. Both are strong supporters of public education — Rocha-Wilson even has set up a scholarship fund at the University of Hawaii Maui College — but we give Hart the edge because of his hands-on expertise in the field, which includes founding Kihei Charter School and serving as chairman of the University of Washington’s College of Education board.


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