Gathering Place

Donna Estomago

BOE’s inaction
threatens charter
school autonomy

Hawaii's charter schools stand at a critical juncture. Created by groups of highly motivated parents and educators in 26 communities around the state, these often disparate schools have a common need for autonomy. This autonomy -- the freedom to educate children out from under the bureaucratic hand of the Department of Education -- is the oxygen that Hawaii's fragile charter school movement needs to stay alive and continue its vital work.

Charter schools were established to provide alternatives to the "one size fits all" instruction offered in ordinary public schools. They and are distinguished by their intensive parental involvement, hands-on learning and smaller student-teacher ratios. Autonomy is vital to their mission.

Charter school autonomy is in danger, threatened by a bureaucratic approach being taken by the Board of Education. This year the Legislature established the post of executive director for a charter school administrative office. This office was administratively attached to the BOE, and the law provided that the executive director be responsible for the state's charter schools in much the same way that the state librarian runs the state library and the superintendent of education runs the DOE, with all three under the ultimate supervision of the BOE. The purpose of the charter school administrative office and its executive director is to champion the interests and development of charter schools, providing transparent accountability to the community.

The creation of this office was supported by all the charter schools. They asked the Hawaii Charter Schools Network, their umbrella support organization, to convene a selection committee of representatives from the charter schools community. The committee started the process of selecting an executive director in early August and made a recommendation on Sept. 30.

This committee of seven people from four islands read and rated 23 applications, then conducted interviews with seven candidates. One candidate emerged as the unanimous choice, with such overwhelming support that he was the only candidate recommended to the BOE for appointment as executive director.

The BOE has refused even to interview the candidate, insisting instead that the charter schools submit three names for review. BOE chairman Herbert Watanabe has erroneously stated that the law requires that more than one name be submitted.

The Hawaii Charter Schools Network and the individual charter schools followed the process outlined by law. The legislation that created the position states that the BOE shall appoint the executive director "based upon the recommendations of an organization of charter schools operating within the state or from a list of nominees submitted by the charter schools." Nowhere does the law require the charter schools to submit more than a single candidate. The BOE, by law, needs only to appoint the recommended candidate, yet it has refused even to interview him.

It is vital that the executive director have the support and trust of the state's charter schools. This is why the law allows for the charter schools to select and submit their candidate. The charter schools have made their recommendation, loud and clear.

Until the executive director is appointed, all business in the charter schools is at a standstill. By law, the position was to have been filled by Oct. 1. During October, the BOE sent three letters demanding additional recommendations. The selection committee is unable to recommend any other candidate. To do so would violate the integrity of the selection process and make a travesty of charter school autonomy.

Hawaii's 26 charter schools offer important choices for Hawaii's parents, their children and their teachers. These schools typically have more parental participation and community involvement than other public schools. Charter school autonomy is one of the reasons for this. It is essential that the charter schools be allowed to select their executive director. It is essential to their ability to flourish, and that is in everyone's interest.

Donna Estomago is president of the Hawaii Charter Schools Network.


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