Christina Kishimoto, an Arizona schools chief who is credited with helping turn around struggling mainland school districts, has been hired to lead Hawaii’s public school system as superintendent of education, the state Board of Education announced Friday, concluding a monthslong national search.
Kishimoto, 48, will begin a three-year contract Aug. 1 at an annual salary of $240,000.
BOE Chairman Lance Mizumoto said in a news release that Kishimoto “has the right combination of experience, knowledge, and focus to implement the strategic vision for educational change set forth in the Governor’s Blueprint for Education and the BOE and DOE’s newly revised joint strategic plan.”
The blueprint envisions a school system that better prepares students for an innovation-driven economy and better supports teachers while empowering school leaders and targeting resources at the school level. The Department of Education’s 2017-20 strategic plan, meanwhile, sets out goals for graduating more students, enrolling more graduates in college, retaining more teachers, improving test scores and closing the so-called achievement gap between high-needs students and their peers.
“It is with great excitement and honor that I accept this critical education leadership position for the state of Hawaii and the Hawaii Department of Education,” Kishimoto said Friday in a BOE news release.
PROFILE: CHRISTINA KISHIMOTO, 48
>> Gilbert Public Schools in Arizona
>> Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut
2005-2011: Assistant superintendent of school design
>> Area Cooperative Educational Services in Connecticut
2004-2005: Director of The Center for School Improvement and Leadership Development
>> Connecticut State Department of Education
2000-2004: Education consultant for school improvement planning
>> Wesleyan University
1996-2000: Assistant dean of student services
>> Doctorate in education administration
>> Master’s degree in public affairs
University of Connecticut
She added that she plans to work with the board and Gov. David Ige to implement “a vision of excellence for all students. I look forward to working hand in hand with Hawaii’s teachers, leaders, staff, parents, community members, and student leaders to execute on this vision of high quality college, career, and community readiness.”
Kishimoto has been superintendent and chief executive officer since 2014 for Gilbert Public Schools, a Phoenix-area school district made up of 40 schools with 38,000 students. Before relocating to Arizona, she had a controversial tenure as superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, a district of about 22,000 students in Connecticut.
The school board in Connecticut gave her low marks on her job performance, citing poor communication and a perceived lack of urgency for improving student achievement. The board, whose members had turned over since her hiring, later unanimously rejected Kishimoto’s request for a contract extension. Kishimoto has defended her record in Hartford, saying she’s a bold leader who had to make tough decisions in a high-poverty district. She is credited with helping to narrow the achievement gap and raise graduation rates there.
“I am a bold leader. … That’s controversial in a community that was neglected for a very long time,” Kishimoto told reporters earlier this month when she was in town for a final interview. “You cannot go into a position like that and lead without having bold leadership and being able to say there are things that you are going to be attacked for. But those things are not at the core of my ethics or at the core of my commitment to public education.”
She also has faced some criticism in Gilbert, which she described as a highly conservative community and district. “I can choose to spend my time answering to folks who want to disrupt, or I can focus on the kids,” Kishimoto said.
Mizumoto emphasized Friday that the board conducted a thorough background check that covered civil, criminal, financial and educational checks. “In addition, district officials, former superintendents, and other individuals in the Gilbert district were contacted. Various negative statements made about Dr. Kishimoto were either inconsequential or simply invalid,” Mizumoto said.
Kishimoto, who grew up in the South Bronx of New York, was one of two finalists, along with Baltimore city schools administrator Linda Chen, to replace outgoing schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, whose $200,000-a-year contract ends June 30. BOE officials said that they will name an interim superintendent for July.
The finalists were selected from a pool of 92 applicants — 75 from the mainland and 17 from Hawaii. The list was narrowed to eight semifinalists with the help of executive search firm Ray & Associates. The board’s search committee interviewed the eight candidates and provided video recordings of the interviews to an advisory group of stakeholders.
Former BOE member Patricia Halagao, an education professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who served on the advisory group, said she was impressed with Kishimoto’s “focus on school design models that celebrate and sustain our diversity of language and culture.”
“As a former public school teacher and someone who now trains teachers, I also appreciate how Dr. Kishimoto elevates teachers as educational experts and aims to create a system conducive for us to thrive and do what we do best — teach.”
When the finalists were announced, some community members and educators criticized the candidates for not being from or familiar with Hawaii. Kishimoto has said her daughter has family on Oahu and in Hilo. Relatives told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that Kishimoto has ties to the family that runs the Two Ladies Kitchen mochi shop in Hilo.
“This is a place we know and love, and it would be absolutely a pleasure to come home to family,” Kishimoto said earlier this month.
Matayoshi offered her congratulations to Kishimoto, saying in an emailed statement, “I’m confident she will build on the progress made to improve our public education system, and continue to keep students at the center of all that we do,” adding that she will work to ensure a smooth transition.
The DOE was recognized this week with an innovation award by the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit public policy organization, which praised Hawaii for “broadly-supported and impactful education improvement efforts” under Matayoshi, “including focusing school accountability on students’ college and career readiness, supporting teachers and education leaders across the state, developing a comprehensive longitudinal data system and investing in data literacy.”
The BOE, made up of Ige appointees, came under fire for its decision late last year not to renew Matayoshi’s contract despite positive evaluations. The search for her successor got off to a bumpy start after a former board member submitted and then withdrew his name from consideration.
Ige released a statement Friday calling on the community to support Kishimoto in her new role.
“While Dr. Kishimoto will lead the effort to remodel our school system, she will need the support of the entire community. Her success will be our success,” Ige said. “Mahalo to Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, who led a reform effort that created a solid foundation upon which we will continue to build and improve.”