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Governor makes his picks

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The governor’s nine nominees for the Board of Education, announced yesterday, plan to meet for the first time April 26 to kick-start an overhaul of board operations, moving to audit BOE policies, shift more responsibility to the superintendent and decrease the number of employees in the board’s offices.

The nominees, who still must be confirmed by the Senate, all share an “enthusiastic optimism” for the future of public education in the islands, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said, and are committed to improving student achievement.

“Without exception, each of them is prepared to bring the resources that they have in terms of their professional lives to bring all (they have) to bear on behalf of moving education forward,” Abercrombie said at a news conference introducing the appointees, none of whom are from the current elected BOE.

First Hawaiian Bank Chief Executive Officer and Chairman Don Horner, who will serve as the Board of Education’s chairman, said he intends to begin work quickly to conduct a “policy audit” to determine what the BOE does — and, potentially, what it shouldn’t do. He said the board will assess what responsibilities and authority could be transferred to schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, though he declined to identify what duties might be turned over until the audit is completed

He expects to have the audit completed by early June.

“We’re going to have a sense of urgency,” he said, adding that he isn’t interested in comparing the appointed board to the elected one.

“We’re not here to look in the rearview mirror,” he said. “We’re ready to go to work.”

The nine appointees represent diverse interest groups — parents, teachers, business professionals, and child and family advocates — and will step onto the board at a time of immense change for Hawaii’s schools: The Department of Education is pledging ambitious reforms to boost student achievement, improve teacher effectiveness and turn around low-performing schools as it is also facing worsening budget woes.

The nominees include some household names: Keith Amemiya, former executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association and current executive administrator and secretary of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, was nominated for a one-year term; and former television news anchor Kim Gennaula, now philanthropy director at Kapiolani Health Foundation, was selected to serve a two-year term.

Also in the group:

>> Two private-practice attorneys — Brian DeLima, a former Hawaii County Council member, and Nancy Budd, president of the Kauai Parent Teacher Student Association;

>> Three current or former CEOs aside from Horner — Wesley Lo, CEO at Maui Memorial Medical Center; Jim Williams, retired administrator and CEO of the Hawaii Employer-Union Benefits Trust Fund; and Cheryl Kauhane Lupenui, CEO of YWCA-Oahu.

>> Charlene Cuaresma, associate director of the Graduate Professional Access Program at the University of Hawaii-Manoa and a leader in the Filipino community.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in November to get rid of BOE elections, which have been around since 1966, and let the governor choose who sits on the board. But a new board could not be appointed until legislation setting up the process of filling board seats was passed.

The push to switch to an appointed board was triggered by frustration over teacher furloughs last school year, which left Hawaii students with the shortest instructional calendar in the nation.

Some 150 people applied to serve on the appointed board, and several more names came in through formal recommendations to the governor.

Abercrombie spent about three weeks whittling down the applicant pool through a vetting and interviewing process.

The full Senate could confirm the nominees as early as April 14.

Reaction to the governor’s picks yesterday was positive, with several people saying they were happy to see the appointees had strong ties to community service organizations.

At least three have children in public schools.

“These appointees were very diverse, in terms of their professional experience and their ethnic makeup,” said state Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. “I think they’re going to be bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table.”

Tokuda added that during the Senate confirmation process, the nominees will be asked to explain how they will bring their skills to the board to improve public education.

“The really positive message (at the news conference) was a real sincere statement that they want to work collaboratively,” she said. “That’s really critical for all of the reforms we’re looking at right now.”

Jo Curran, co-founder of Hawaii Education Matters and a parent of two children in public schools, said she liked what she saw in the governor’s choices.

“Just seeing Keith Amemiya’s name there should give parents a great deal of hope,” she said. “When I saw his name, I thought, ‘Yes, this is definitely going in the right direction.’”

Curran said she is also supportive of the board taking stock of what its role should be. “They absolutely need to blow it apart (to have) less micromanaging and more effective managing,” she said.

In addition to looking at its policies, Horner said the board will also move to decrease the number of BOE committees and focus on three core groupings — finance, human resources and student achievement.

Horner also plans to cut the size of the BOE office, transferring staff to the DOE. The BOE has 12 office positions, but six are currently vacant.

Lupenui, one of the three Oahu appointees, said she is excited to see the board “working collectively as a team” and moving quickly to get organized.

She said her role at the outset is to keep an open mind and “to learn from those who really are much more versed in this than I.”

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