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Principals testify against retaining Hawaii schools superintendent

The principals’ union came out Thursday against renewing Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s contract, saying she has failed to consult with them or provide clear guidance during the pandemic.

The move followed on the heels of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, whose of board of directors voted unanimously to advocate against retaining her.

But a Board of Education committee that was scheduled to discuss and make a recommendation on the issue Thursday instead deferred the matter when it ran out of time after considering other agenda items. It plans to meet again within two weeks regarding her contract.

Testimony at the Human Resources Committee’s virtual meeting, which was largely from teachers, ran strongly against retaining Kishimoto, whose contract expires July 31. She has been superintendent since Aug. 1, 2017, when she was hired on a three-year contract that later was extended by a year.

Kaneohe Elementary School Principal Derek Minakami, president of the Hawaii Government Employees Association’s Unit 6, said it was a difficult to publicly criticize her leadership, adding that “what pains me most is that I still believe in her vision for empowering schools.”

But he said that principals were left to navigate their way through the pandemic without adequate support or guidance, and often learned about decisions after they were made.

“We have asked to have our voices included in decisions that affect how we are to keep students and staff safe while attaining high levels of learning,” Minakami said at the meeting. “We also asked for clear and consistent direction that all schools should be implementing.”

“While we appreciate the goal of empowering school leaders, when it comes to health and safety, there should not be much variability in what is expected,” he said. “Instead we hear of decisions once they have already been made and after they have been released to the public. We are left to make plans without clear guidance, leading to a disparity of implementation.”

The Hui for Excellence in Education, or HE’E Coalition, also testified against keeping the superintendent on the job. It criticized Kishimoto for a “lack of data and transparency of information; inadequate guidance and support to schools, especially during the pandemic; and confusing and delayed communications to stakeholders.”

“While the pandemic brought about difficult and unforeseen circumstances, leadership that provided clear guidance and support was needed,” said Cheri Nakamura, director of HE’E, a coalition of nonprofits. “We need a superintendent who can communicate clearly, collaboratively and in a timely manner.”

There were a couple of supportive voices in the testimony. Kekoa Michael Bay, who teaches at Pearl City High School, credited Kishimoto with opening up communication with teachers, making DOE finances more transparent and caring for students.

“She has done some spectacular work in the other years and the pandemic has been difficult for all of us,” he wrote. “If we were to determine job contracts purely based on this school year, most teachers, administrators and DOE personnel would be deemed ‘marginal’ regarding the impact we have had on children.”

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