Tyranny, distrust, poor decisions
reign at Kamehameha
Thursday, November 27, 1997 As educators, we are appalled by developments at Kamehameha Schools since the appointment of Lokelani Lindsey as "lead trustee" for education. What was a climate of mutual respect and trust became one of fear and intimidation. Recent media coverage and the master's report have given the school community a renewed sense of empowerment and solidarity, but more remains to be done.
Before the school can begin to realize its full potential, major changes must be made.
Treatment of facultyA successful educational institution is built upon respect for teachers. That and a strong support system will produce classrooms marked by a high level of interest, intensity and joy. Education, as Herodotus pointed out, is not about filling buckets but igniting fires. You cannot tell teachers to "shut up and do what you're told," and expect them to inspire others.
When the four elected leaders of Na Kumu (the Kamehameha teachers group) dared to write a letter to the newspaper protesting Lindsey's interrogation of the student body president, Lindsey's knee-jerk reaction was to convince the other trustees that the leaders should be fired. Only when Kamehameha President Michael Chun interceded in their behalf was it changed to probation, then to individual reprimands which were placed in administrative files. Evidently, Lindsey doesn't approve of critical thinking or freedom of expression, at least not when it comes to the faculty.
The Kamehameha faculty were not allowed to meet with the court-appointed fact finder on campus, and even had their opening day prayer service canceled despite having gone out of their way to invite the trustees and assuring them that no one would use the occasion for any purpose other than prayer.
Teacher contracts were issued just days before the school year began this fall, which is inexcusable. This should have been done at least by March. Besides being important from the standpoint of the school's ability to plan, it is the decent thing to do. Teachers have families, mortgages and other obligations which make such uncertainty tortuous. No school should treat its employees with such contempt and disrespect.
Two years ago, 171 faculty and staff were unceremoniously terminated with but two and a half weeks' notice. Among the fired were people with up to 35 years of loyal service and outstanding evaluations. Program changes sometime need to be made, but the heavy-handedness of these changes not only was insensitive to the terminated employees, but terribly destructive of school morale as well.
Many employees who were not terminated are now looking elsewhere for an educational environment built on trust and respect. In a memo earlier this year, trustee Oswald Stender wrote, "I have never experienced a situation in which so many good people have left or talk of leaving any organization for the same reasons."
Treatment of studentsEarlier this year, Lindsey had the student body president pulled out of class and taken by Principal Tony Ramos to the trustees' Kawaiahao Plaza offices, where she interrogated him for more than two hours. This inquisition was prompted by word that he and another student had written (but not yet sent) a letter in support of President Chun. Among other thinly disguised threats was a reassurance that she wouldn't dream of calling administrators at Princeton to tell them that this particular scholarship recipient was a "rabble-rouser."
Such an egregious abuse of power flies in the face of educational norms and common decency. If Lindsey had done nothing else, this alone would warrant her removal as a trustee.
In a less widely publicized, but equally telling incident, Lindsey recently demanded that all Kamehameha kindergartners be able to identify each of the trustees by Christmas. Jeffrey Timmons of Babson Institute has written, "Control freaks don't grow good companies."
Distrust and disrespectEffective managers make sure the people under them know that they and their efforts are appreciated. A sure-fire way to stifle initiative and prevent growth is to tell them that they are incompetent. One of our sources at Kamehameha has said, "I cannot remember a single positive comment that has been made about the program by Mrs. Lindsey over the past several years."
To 200 or so secondary school teachers, Lindsey has said the entire elementary school faculty "failed" their students, and that she personally had determined half of the grade 5 and 6 teachers to be "incompetent." To a group of dedicated staff members, she's said, "I know I am disliked, but I don't care. I am the only one who has the interests of the students at heart."
Lindsey is right about being disliked. For example, during one of the last rehearsals for this year's Kamehameha Song Contest, the students spontaneously "booed" when Lindsey's name was announced.
This certainly was not model behavior and the students immediately were lectured on the importance of showing respect to others. But when Chairman of the Board of Trustees Dickie Wong was told of the incident, he reportedly declared, "I don't give a f--- about the song contest. I'd cancel it in a minute if the kids continue to show such lack of appreciation for us."
It was as if arrogance had completely blinded Wong to the importance of this traditional event, not just to the Kamehameha community, but to the entire state as well. He and Lindsey don't seem to understand that respect must be earned, not demanded.
When Dr. Chun was given a standing ovation during this year's graduation ceremony, Lindsey was the only person in Blaisdell Arena to remain seated. We've come to believe that Lindsey's repeated attempts to get Chun fired are related more to his popularity than anything having to do with education.
Poor decisionsWhy did the trustees vote two years ago to immediately terminate their highly acclaimed early education and other outreach programs? One stated reason was economic and we now know, thanks to the recently issued master's report, that the trustees had lost $264 million in high-risk ventures the year before. Another was that these programs supposedly were not effective.
But trustee Oswald Stender now says the estate could have afforded to keep these programs, and that educational information provided at the time by Lindsey was misleading and had been "manipulated." According to him, there wasn't a compelling economic or educational reason to abandon these programs.
A third stated reason for the terminations was Lindsey's assertion that the estate's tax-exempt status was threatened whenever KS/BE ventured beyond teaching its students, with its faculty, in its facilities. Tax experts with whom we've consulted say Lindsey's extreme interpretation of the law is nonsense.
These terminations were all the more troubling because the programs had been carefully developed to meet the educational needs of young Hawaiians who might never earn admission to Kamehameha, and to do so in ways that could be measured for effectiveness and readily duplicated. Recommendations to cancel all of these programs came from mainland consultants with no sense of Hawaiian cultural reality or the ways in which these programs were adding value to the state Department of Education's efforts. In addition to the tragic loss of human resources, nearly 20 years of knowledge, research and data were abandoned.
Lindsey's choice to run the school is Rockne Freitas, who is not taken seriously as an educator by the bulk of the Kamehameha faculty. A telling anecdote is Freitas' reaction to a proposal that students be required to demonstrate skills such as the ability to think critically and communicate effectively: "If a kid gets into college, what do we care if he can write effectively?"
At first, the educators in attendance thought he was joking. But to their horror, they soon realized that he was dead serious. To the faculty, Freitas appears to be nothing more or less than Lindsey's surrogate.
Strategic planningThe process of developing a strategic plan is as important as is the product. This is true of much that takes place in a school. Yet trustee Lindsey has ignored bottom-up planning completed before her appointment, and ordered implementation of a plan she recently developed with help from outside "experts" --including a mainland clinical psychologist and a team of "educational auditors" from an accounting firm. The more than $2 million reportedly paid to these "experts," though outrageous, doesn't trouble us as much as the virtual exclusion from the planning process of people actually affected by the plan.
Lindsey's decree that President Chun proceed with implementation of her plan is a no-win proposition. A top-down plan in which faculty have had no input and feel no ownership is destined to failure. But if Chun or the faculty balk at Lindsey's marching orders, as we think they should, she will have found her excuse to fire the president.
Even if Lindsey's plan reflected faculty input, it would make no sense to attempt implementation now while Kamehameha is being visited by an accrediting team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. A positive report is of critical importance and should not be taken for granted. To deal with the visit properly requires tremendous time on the part of faculty and staff. Throwing a new plan on top of this process indicates how little Lindsey and her team of outside consultants know about education, or care about the life of the school.
A time to actThe master's report contains enlightening information about the financial side of the estate -- including the fact that the school constitutes only 3 percent of the estate's assets. If Patrick Yim had not been handpicked by the trustees, we might be more optimistic that his upcoming report will be just as enlightening about the educational side and will recommend more than mediation. Frankly, our faith in his fact-finding mission was shaken to the core several weeks ago when he met privately with the trustees to preview a draft of his report.
Regardless of what Yim ends up reporting, we strongly believe the best interests of the school require that Lindsey be removed immediately, along with Wong, Henry Peters and Gerard Jervis, fellow trustees who allowed her to terrorize the school.
Education is a challenging profession even under the best of circumstances. At Kamehameha, the challenges unnecessarily have been magnified tenfold. The faculty and staff have managed to stay focused on the students. Amazingly, they have made public statements despite a real threat of retaliation, and are optimistic that positive change is just over the horizon. For these and other reasons, they have earned our respect and admiration.
Now it's time for the rest of us to make our voices heard. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.
Authors of this article
The authors are, from top, left:
Isabella Aiona Abbott - Wilder Professor of Botany at the University of Hawaii and a graduate of Kamehameha School for Girls, Class of 1937.
Winona K.D. Beamer - Teacher, Hawaiiana consultant and graduate of Kamehameha School for Girls, Class of 1941.
Gladys A. Brandt - Former principal of Kamehameha School for Girls and director of the secondary division of Kamehameha Schools.
Roderick F. McPhee - Former headmaster and president emeritus of Punahou School.
Winona Ellis Rubin - Former assistant to a president of Kamehameha Schools and former state director of human services.
Bishop Estate Archive,
including Broken Trust I