The departing elected Board of Education held its final meeting last night — before the new appointed body is seated — sharing lei, a few tears and some advice for their successors.
"The main thing is think about our kids," said Second Vice Chairman Herbert Watanabe, who was first elected to the board in 1996. "I wish (them) the best."
Maui member Leona Rocha-Wilson, who was just elected in November, said the best advice she can give the appointed board is to "stay in touch with principals, stay in touch with schools."
"Start with the people who will be most affected by your decisions," Rocha-Wilson said. "You can’t operate in a vacuum."
The meeting ended a 45-year run for the elected panel, whose image took a beating during last year’s teacher furloughs.
Voters took their ire over the furloughs, which left public school students with the shortest instructional calendar in the nation, to the polls in November, overwhelmingly approving a constitutional amendment to get rid of board elections and let the governor choose the members.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie named his nine nominees for the new board last month, and their first meeting is set for April 26, after confirmation by the full Senate Thursday.
The appointees represent diverse interest groups — parents, teachers, business professionals and child and family advocates — and will step into their positions 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.
Three members of the incoming board attended last night’s meeting, at Ka Waihona o ka Naauao New Century Public Charter School in Nanakuli, to give their good wishes to outgoing members.
Among the attendees from the appointed board was Don Horner, chief executive officer and chairman of First Hawaiian Bank, who was chosen in February to sit on the elected board to fill a vacancy.
Horner, who will serve as chairman of the new board, has said he plans to make sweeping changes to the board’s operations, including handing more responsibility to the schools superintendent, auditing board policies and cutting staff.
Board member Janis Akuna said she supports more efficiency but also said doing so might be easier said than done.
Her advice for appointees: "Just learn as much as you can as quickly as you can."
Meanwhile, current Chairman Garrett Toguchi said he had no reaction to Horner’s plans and wasn’t too emotional about the final gathering.
"It’s just another meeting to me," he said.
Nonetheless, the board had a full agenda, mulling over graduation requirements and hearing about improvements being made in public schools.
Before the meeting started, member Pamela Young, who was voted to the board in November, said the new panel needs "all of our support."
"I wish the new board all the best," she said.