The Hawaii State Teachers Association on Tuesday said it opposes the renewal of schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s contract and intends to testify against doing so to the Board of Education this week.
The board’s human resources committee is scheduled to meet Thursday morning, with an action item on its agenda on its recommendation concerning the superintendent’s contract. The committee’s decision would then be forwarded to the full board for consideration.
HSTA said its board of directors, made up of volunteer teachers, voted unanimously over the weekend to ask the BOE not to renew Kishimoto’s contract this summer after months of ongoing frustration.
The union had a long list of complaints about Kishimoto’s performance during the pandemic — from her unwillingness to bargain to her refusal to enforce mask use and the 6-foot distancing guidelines until instructed to do so by the BOE, and her ongoing refusal to release COVID-19 case counts by school.
“Hawaii’s Board of Education on numerous occasions has had to publicly change or rescind decisions made by the superintendent,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee.
HSTA also took issue with many unilateral decisions Kishimoto made, which the union said included requiring teachers without in-person instruction responsibilities to report to campus for work, and terminating pay differentials — or extra compensation — for special-education and Hawaiian-language immersion teachers, and teachers in schools in areas hard to staff.
Additionally, HSTA says she failed to provide adequate and clear communication to department employees on a timely basis.
In a survey of principals released Monday, HSTA says 58% did not feel the Department of Education provided them with enough information to communicate to students, parents and communities during the pandemic. Fewer than a third said they felt the department worked in a timely and structured way to support their school.
“Our teachers every day are risking their lives doing their best to teach, and they want to know that the superintendent has their back as well,” said Rosenlee. “And whether it’s forcing teachers to go to school even though they weren’t teaching students and could have (taught) from home; whether it’s telling 800 teachers and 1,300 DOE employees they were going to lose their jobs — it’s just been this consistent theme of not showing the teachers across the state that she cares for them.”
In August HSTA’s board of directors also passed a no-confidence vote on Kishimoto’s leadership in safely reopening schools.
The BOE appointed Kishimoto as superintendent in 2017, with a three-year contract that began on Aug. 1 of that year. When the contract was announced, Kishimoto’s annual base salary was $240,000, with additional incentive bonuses.
The contract was extended by another year to July 31 of this year.
In an end-of-year evaluation last year, the BOE gave Kishimoto an overall “effective” rating despite some criticism, evaluating her in five categories: visionary leadership, personnel management, board governance, communications and community relations, and equity advocacy.
In her self-evaluation, Kishimoto rated herself “highly effective” in all five categories, saying that she she had considered what impacts would be on students, families, communities and staff prior to making decisions while coordinating a “cohesive response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“One of my highest priorities has been to ensure all students continue to have access to a high-quality education despite the disruption caused by the pandemic,” she wrote under the visionary-leadership category. “Expectations around this priority have been collaboratively developed and clearly articulated across the tri-level leadership team, from state offices to complex areas to schools.”
Kishimoto said she also established a COVID-19 Response Team to facilitate the necessary procedures following a positive case at a school or office. The department purchased more than 52,000 technology devices to address the gap for students brought to light during the pandemic.
She said she conducted daily COVID-19 meetings with department leadership at the onset of the pandemic, and communicated via weekly “talk story” video messages, monthly staff e-newsletters, e-blasts, web posts and social media messages.
Kishimoto did not have extensive comments Tuesday in response to the HSTA.
“My focus right now is on safely reopening our schools,” Kishimoto said in a statement.
HSTA’s board over the weekend also supported bargaining with the Department of Education on the state’s push to get more students back to classrooms in person following spring break in mid-March.
“We want to find a way to make it happen,” said Rosenlee. “Right now our teachers are deep into the process of getting vaccinated. We have really low cases in Hawaii, and if there are accommodations that are made to protect teachers that can’t be vaccinated or accommodations made for parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their child to school, then we feel like the best thing is for the HSTA to work with the DOE to find a way to bring more students back on campus.”
HSTA found in a mid-February survey that 52% of about 11,000 members responding had received one or two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Teachers should be given the chance to receive both vaccine doses plus two weeks prior to the return of students., HSTA said.
Also, the union feels teachers should not have to teach in person and virtually concurrently, which has been stressful. Also, schools should require masking and maintain 6-foot distancing to the greatest extent practicable.