Superintendent offers
plan for education

But Hamamoto opposes local
school boards

In an unprecedented speech to state legislators today, Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto conceded that Hawaii's children aren't getting the education they need, and offered her recipe for change.

"I am not here to defend the status quo," she said. "We have been changing this bureaucracy since the day I was named superintendent two years ago."

Her "State of the Schools" address - the first ever to a joint session of the Legislature - gave the former teacher and principal a chance to respond directly to Gov. Linda Lingle's State of the State speech just two days earlier.

She differed with the governor on the issue of local school boards, but spent most of her time at the Capitol emphasizing common ground and adding some of her own ideas to revamp Hawaii's public schools.

"Too many of our teenagers fail basic eighth grade English and math tests," she said in prepared remarks. "They have little hope of decent-paying jobs ... That is simply not acceptable."

"Education reform in Hawaii is only going to happen at the most basic level - at the school and in the classroom," she said. "I am opposed to additional boards of education that add more layers of bureaucracy between our state school board and the schools. More school boards will not improve student achievement."

Harking back to her time as a teacher at IIima Intermediate and Pearl City High School, and as a principal at McKinley High School, she said she often felt frustrated with the Department of Education bureaucracy and learned to "work around the system."

"Teachers shouldn't have to work around a system ... Principals shouldn't have to work around a system or use personal connections ... The system should work for them," she said.

To accomplish that, she called for several changes that she believes will make a difference at the school level, including some offered by the governor:

-- Empowering principals and school communities by providing more lump-sum funding directly to the schools and giving them the authority and flexibility to decide how funds are spent.

-- Having an elected board of directors at each school, made up of school and community members, to help make such decisions.

-- Putting principals on contracts that reward top performers with financial and other incentives and move non-performers to another line of work.

-- Having principals work year-round, and giving teachers 11-month contracts, with 10 months of teaching and another month of paid training.

-- Adopting a funding formula that allocates money based on the unique needs of each student and allows school choice.

-- Instituting a common public school calendar that allows more frequent breaks and vacation time for families, and opportunities to train teachers.

-- Unshackling the Department of Education from other state departments.

"Hold me accountable and expect results," she declared. "But first, you must give me the tools and the space to do the job."

The House Republican Caucus objected to having Hamamoto speak because she is an appointed department head, not an elected official. Rep. Chris Halford (R, Makena-Kihei) boycotted the event, calling it "purely partisan and political."

But other legislators said they welcomed Hamamoto's request to address the joint session because education is a top priority, and they valued the chance to hear from an educator rather than a politician.

"Why not have the superintendent share her vision of where she sees the department today and where she wants to take it, and what tools she needs to get her job done?" said House Education Chairman Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades).


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