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3 first-timers join last elected panel

This story has been corrected.

Three newcomers will be joining the state Board of Education.

Pamela Young, the city government accountant (not the television news anchor), was the top vote-getter for an at-large seat.

"It’s a pleasant surprise," she said.

Young credits her high vote count to the amount of grass-roots campaigning she did.

The other at-large winners were incumbent Kim Coco Iwamoto and former BOE member Randall M.L. Yee.

Iwamoto, 42, is a pro-bono civil rights attorney and affordable housing property manager. Yee, 51, is an attorney who serves on the Charter School Review Panel.

Only the top three vote-getters are elected. Other candidates were former state Rep. Brian Y. Yamane, Roger Takabayashi and Melanie Bailey.

In the race for the Leeward Oahu seat, another newcomer, Maralyn A. Kurshals, beat David O’Neal and James Arola.

Kurshals was surprised by the number of votes she garnered. "I never got that many votes in my life," she said.

Kurshals previously ran for the neighborhood board and an at-large seat on the BOE. She is a quality assurance specialist at Leeward Family Guidance Center.

The third newcomer, Leona Rocha-Wilson, beat her lone opponent, R. Ray Hart, for the open Maui seat. Rocha-Wilson is an entrepreneur and longtime education advocate.

There was no incumbent for the Maui seat because Mary Cochran did not seek re-election, instead making an unsuccessful bid for a Maui Council seat.

For the Windward Oahu seat, incumbent John R. Penebacker beat challenger Valzey Freitas.

Penebacker, a former University of Hawaii basketball player, has been a BOE member since 2006. He previously served on the board from 1980 to 1988.

Freitas, 35, is a program coordinator with the nonprofit Parents and Children Together.

The BOE sets policy for the ninth-largest — and only statewide — school district in the nation. 

The board candidates ran as Hawaii voters decided that the state should switch to an appointed BOE.

The election also comes at a time of great change for Hawaii public schools, which are still recovering from the black eye of teacher furloughs last school year.

The Department of Education is overseeing a host of reforms, thanks in large part to a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant aimed at turning around poor-performing schools, improving teacher effectiveness and boosting student achievement.

Public schools are also under increased pressure to meet rising federal benchmarks for student proficiency in math and reading and are preparing to switch to a more rigorous, nationally standardized curriculum in core subjects starting next school year.

CORRECTION: Mary Cochran made an unsuccessful bid for Maui County Council, not mayor, as was reported in a previous version of this story.

Board of Education candidate Valzey Freitas is 35 years old. A Page B6 story Wednesday had an incorrect age and spelling of her first name.

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