Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto emphasized a point in yesterday's speech to a joint session of the state Legislature.

calls state school
system obsolete

Pat Hamamoto details failures
and touts more control at local levels

Superintendent's to-do list

Anyone who expected Superintendent Pat Hamamoto to "circle the wagons" around the Department of Education when she spoke to the Legislature yesterday was in for a surprise.

Instead, she admitted that too many teenagers in Hawaii's public schools are failing basic math and English tests, called Hawaii's education system "obsolete" and detailed how she would like to change it after two years on the job.

"Her speech was very powerful," said Gerald Suyama, principal of Pearl City High School. "She understands the problems and came up with solutions."

In her appearance before a joint session of the Legislature, Hamamoto struck a chord with many listeners when she described her own frustrations with "the system" when she was a teacher and principal, and called for giving schools more control over their academic approach and budgets.

"Her speech was very well received by members of the school community, including parents," said John Friedman, community relations specialist for the Hawaii State Parent Teachers Student Association.

"Her emphasis on bringing decision-making down to the school level is something that we believe in very strongly," he added. "We really believe that governance should be as close to the schools as possible, and how much closer can you be than the school campus?"

Several planks in Hamamoto's agenda echo recommendations made by Gov. Linda Lingle, including the push to put principals on performance contracts, give them more control of their budgets and distribute funds to schools based on individual student needs.

But Lingle, who did not attend the speech, said the changes Hamamoto proposed do not go far enough. Nonetheless, the governor welcomed "the dramatic fashion in which she changed from protecting the status quo."

"In order to move forward toward a positive solution, you have to admit that you have a problem," Lingle said. "We're very happy that occurred today."

Rep. Guy Ontai (R, Waipio Gentry-Mililani), ranking minority member of the House Education Committee, was optimistic about the consensus that seems to be building around education reform.

"I'm really excited that there's a lot of common ground," he said. "We are a lot closer than we were just a year ago. Where we differ is in how we govern the principals. We think locally elected school boards are essential."

Rather than the seven new school boards proposed by the governor, which Hamamoto believes would add another layer of bureaucracy, the superintendent suggested having a board of directors at each school, as at many private schools. The boards would be made up of school and community members and be elected by the parents and school staff.

Hamamoto also proposed giving principals year-round contracts that reward top performers with financial and other incentives and move nonperformers to another line of work. Teachers would be given 11-month contracts, with 10 months of teaching and another month of paid training time.

Both proposals were welcomed by educators interviewed after the speech.

"It's about time," said Annette Nishikawa, principal at Kapolei Middle School. "There are many good principals out there who are not getting the time or the rewards they deserve ... and every employer needs the ability to change his work staff for the betterment of production."

Roger Takabayashi, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, called a longer work year for teachers "way overdue."

"We're already putting in the time, and we ought to get compensated for it," he said. "It's needed for planning, coordination and training."

But Republicans recoiled at the cost.

They argued that the Department of Education has enough money already and just needs to move it to the classroom.

"Throwing money at the problem doesn't improve things," said Rep. William "Bud" Stonebraker (R, Kalama Valley-Hawaii Kai).

State Department of Education


school to-do list

Highlights of Superintendent Pat Hamamoto's agenda to improve Hawaii's schools:

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

>> Have a board of directors made up of school and community members for each school that is elected by the parents and school staff and has decision-making power.

>> Put principals on contracts that reward top performers with financial and other incentives, and move nonperformers to another line of work.

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

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

>> Institute a common public school calendar that allows more frequent breaks and time for teacher training and collaboration.

>> Unshackle the Department of Education from other state departments, to give it control over hiring, budgets, and repairs and maintenance.

The full text of the speech is available at


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