Saturday, October 20, 2001

LeMahieu departure
concerns overseer

The court monitor is 'exceedingly
troubled' the state may
decline in special education

Interim schools chief is guided by LeMahieu's vision

By Crystal Kua

The departure of Paul LeMahieu as public schools chief raises serious concerns about the state's ability to sustain progress made in improving special-education services under the Felix consent decree, the court monitor said.

"I have huge sustainability concerns at this point and am exceedingly troubled on how I can represent that and how gains can continue to be made," Ivor Groves said.

The state's special-education system faces being taken over by a federal receiver on Nov. 1 unless certain requirements are met by then.

Groves also must determine whether the state shows enough support to maintain the work that has been done and achieve compliance. He will submit a report to the court soon after the deadline.

LeMahieu tendered his resignation Thursday night, and the Board of Education accepted it. He stepped down after a joint Senate-House Investigative Committee began asking questions about whether he had a "personal, intimate" relationship with a Hilo woman whose company was awarded a $600,000 special-education contract.

The committee is looking into how millions of dollars were spent by the state to comply with the consent decree, which aims to improve mental health and educational services to special-needs children.

Groves, who credited LeMahieu for helping the public school system make significant progress in consent decree compliance over the past couple of years, questioned whether the state has the commitment that is needed for the long haul.

"I am quite concerned the atmosphere created by this legislative committee is jeopardizing people's motivation to get the job done," Groves said.

Groves said schools have more tools and have more ability to meet the needs of children, and he wants to see continued support for those resources.

"They have to have support to make headway," he said "I think it depends on what happens even over the next two weeks. There has got to be assurance that this management team is not going to be totally destroyed and that funding is not going to be yanked."

Rep. Scott Saiki, co-chairman of the investigative committee, said it should not matter who is at the helm of the system for sustainability to be achieved and that acting Superintendent Pat Hamamoto is capable of doing the job.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson, who has worked closely with LeMahieu to comply with federal court requirements, said he is concerned about the change in leadership "because it is going to be disruptive, and at the very least distracting, from the course that was set by Dr. LeMahieu.

"I think he had the Department of Education headed in the right direction as it relates to special-education services," Anderson added. "Later, there were some significant problems, but not of his making. They were problems inherent in the system."

Anderson said he thinks the departments will make the Nov. 1 deadline to report to the court on the consent decree progress, but a March 31 deadline will be tough.

Groves, however, said he is concerned about the department's ability to meet a Nov. 1 benchmark on hiring a certain number of certified special-education teachers, and there are still complaints about the computer information system that the DOE is required to have.

All schools then must be in compliance, which poses significant challenges to hiring teachers and getting a structure working in rural areas, he said.

Parent Steve Bowen said the state set LeMahieu up for failure with Felix.

"LeMahieu was brought to the state, and the first thing they say is, 'He's our savior to fix anything,'" Bowen said. "No one person can do that."

Star-Bulletin reporter Helen Altonn contributed to this story.

Patricia Hamamoto talked to the media at the Office of
the Superintendent in the Queen Liliuokalani Building yesterday.

Interim schools chief is
guided by LeMahieu’s vision

By Crystal Kua

Pat Hamamoto, the Department of Education's point person on compliance issues dealing with the Felix consent decree, is described by principals, teachers and government officials as someone who gets the job done.

"I think the deputy, Pat Hamamoto, is capable of finishing the job. She's been on top of everything, and I think she's able to do it," Gov. Ben Cayetano said.

Hamamoto was named interim schools superintendent following Thursday's resignation of Paul LeMahieu.

She had been deputy superintendent under LeMahieu since 1999, and said she plans to continue the course set by her former boss on standards, assessment and accountability.

"We're very saddened by what has occurred. It has been unsettling, and there is that sense of loss," she said yesterday. "Superintendent LeMahieu has not only brought a vision to Hawaii that we believe in, but we also believe as an educator that his standards agenda was very sound."

When asked if she would consider doing the job permanently, she replied, "That's not on my agenda right now."

Pat Hamamoto

Pat Hamamoto has worked in Hawaii's public school system since 1975. A Maryknoll High School graduate, she earned a bachelor's degree from California State University-Long Beach and did graduate course work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Some key dates in her career:

October 1975: Began teaching at Highlands Intermediate School. Also taught at Ilima Intermediate and Pearl City High.

September 1983: Named Maui High vice principal. Also was Nanakuli High & Intermediate vice principal.

January 1987: Named Pearl City Highlands Elementary principal.

July 1989 to December 1991: Served as a contract administration specialist in the state personnel office.

December 1991: Named Likelike Elementary principal.

April 1992: Named McKinley High principal.

Feb. 19, 1999: Appointed the Department of Education's deputy superintendent.

Oct. 18, 2001: Appointed interim superintendent.

Source: State Department of Education

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