Charter schools chief
suddenly quits post

The swift departure of the new
appointee surprises the board

Just five months after being named the first executive director of Hawaii's 26 charter schools, Dewey Kim has abruptly resigned from the state job, citing inherent conflicts in the position as well as personal reasons.

The decision shocked the charter school community as well as the Board of Education, which appointed him to the new position on Jan. 23, after a delay of several months.

"He was our warrior, he is a brilliant guy," said Steve Hirakami, president of the Hawaii Charter Schools Network. "We have to regroup. This has been really devastating for me personally as well as professionally. I'm really concerned about his health."

Kim submitted his letter of resignation on June 14, and was hospitalized later in the week for a couple of days, Hirakami said. A former deputy attorney general, Kim had worked nonstop since taking on the job, which he described as the hardest in his life, said Donna Estomago, former president of the charter schools network.

The executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office, a position created last year, has an inherent tension built into it. The director serves as the official advocate for the charter schools while also overseeing them on behalf of the Board of Education. And it's more than serving two masters, because the charter schools are diverse, each with individual needs. Charter schools are designed to provide alternatives to traditional public schools, and are free of many state regulations.

Kim did not return calls seeking comment yesterday, but he pointed to several factors in his letter of resignation. His resignation is effective Friday.

"The five-month delay in the appointment to the position put me way behind in trying to understand the complexities of the issues involving the charter schools," Kim wrote.

"In addition, as recognized by the board and the charter schools, the executive director's position is to support the charter schools, but he is an employee of the board. This has caused many problems, because often the position of the two sides is not the same and sometimes at odds. This makes problem solving extremely difficult. In addition, there are personal family considerations that affect my decision."

Kim served as legal adviser to the Board of Education during his 17 years with the Department of the Attorney General. He later headed the state Medicaid Investigation Division before going into private practice.

His new job was supposed to have begun on Oct. 1, but Kim's appointment was delayed because the Board of Education thought the law required it to choose among more than one nominee. The charter schools wanted to submit only their unanimous choice, Kim, after interviewing the top seven of 23 candidates. Ultimately, the board hired Kim without reviewing other applicants, but the delay made his job more difficult.

"He was so busy trying to put out all these fires, the legislative session was in swing already, the budget had already been submitted, that he didn't have time to get a staff," Hirakami said. "This is a four- or five-man job. It wasn't something any one man could do."

At its meeting June 10, the Board of Education approved Kim's proposal to recruit several staff members. His decision to resign four days later caught board members by surprise.

"Everyone was shocked and of course very disappointed," said Carol Gabbard, who heads the board's charter schools committee. "We all really like Dewey. I felt like he was handling the job well."

Board Chairman Breene Harimoto said he was "very sorry to see him go."

"We all had very high hopes for seeing that office flourish, and now we have to start all over again," Harimoto said. "It was definitely a difficult job. He was new, the position was new. We were all kind of searching how to make this work."

The board hopes to name a temporary replacement for Kim at its meeting Thursday at Konawaena High School in Kealakekua on the Big Island, "just to keep the ball rolling," Harimoto said. The new fiscal year begins July 1 and the board will not meet again until July 29 because of the summer break.

"Going into this critical juncture, getting the new school year ready, we cannot afford to have nobody in the position," Harimoto said.

Gabbard described the executive director's position as "a difficult job but not impossible."

"I know that in other jurisdictions there are people in that same position," she said. "They say you have to wear two hats."

Hirakami called the position "kind of a consolidation of all the headaches and problems and roadblocks" faced by charter schools. He thanked and praised Kim for his efforts.

"He's the kind of guy that won respect from all parties," Hirakami said. "We've got to reevaluate the structure and how we're going to make this office work. Certainly we can't afford to lose people like Dewey. They come along very rarely."


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