Superintendent finalists outline their vision for Hawaii’s schools

Linda Chen, left, and Christina Kishimoto

We’re hearing from two finalists in the search for the next superintendent of Hawaii’s public schools.

The Board of Education held a meet-and-greet Q&A session Thursday with candidates Linda Chen and Christina Kishimoto.

Chen is the the founder and managing director of Ikigai Educational Consulting. She has served in a number of educational leadership roles in Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Kishimoto is currently the superintendent and CEO of Gilbert Public Schools in Gilbert, Arizona. She previously served as superintendent, and assistant superintendent of school design, of Hartford Public Schools.

Both candidates say they have big plans for our public schools.

“There are advantages to the way Hawaii is organized as one system, and also one system with higher education, and there’s tremendous opportunity to accelerate partnership and work that would be much more complex in other systems having to negotiate through a state system and various higher education systems,” Chen said.

“This is an incredible system, and what’s so attractive about it is the fact that this is a place where there is a shared vision about what we want to accomplish for our students here and for our families and our communities,” Kishimoto said, referring to Gov. David Ige’s blueprint for the state’s public schools that is consistent with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). “We are going to model the kind of excellence we should be seeing across this country for every child, so with that, that’s my vision for coming in, working with the board, working with the legislators, who I met with yesterday, working with the governor, and particularly working with teachers at the school base level to make sure they get the content and support to be able to implement a great curriculum for our kids.”

As superintendent, Chen said she would take a hard look at school staffing.

“In many of the districts I worked at, there was also a significant reduction in revenue as compared to expenditures and there had to be ways we look strategically around how to leverage human resources and people, so I would look at that,” Chen said, “and that’s not to say it’s an elimination of positions, but I think we are all accountable. It is public funding. We are accountable, every person in the system to the work that’s tied to students.

“I would also look for talking and listening to students, to parents, to principals, and teachers,” Chen said. “There are many things in a large organization that are designed the support all things that happen in a classroom, and I would want to know their interactions with how they feel that work is going. There is always room for improvement and celebrations to hold up, and sometimes people in the school house may not know exactly what everyone else is doing in their department, and I think that’s important to highlight as well.”

Kishimoto says she would look to define the school system’s core priority and make sure teachers have the support and tools they need to do their job.

“What do we want to be known for as an education system and ensure that everyone at every level has that buy in and has the opportunity to have the discussion and be part of the dialogue in this course,” Kishimoto said.

“We have to make sure the teachers also have tremendous voice in terms of what that model looks like in terms of implementation. There’s a number of things we’re going to need to do. We’re going to need to look at our financial structure around how do we provide competitive pay and a good pay structure that allows teacher to be able to have a living wage with salaries,” Kishimoto continued. “We want to make sure that teachers are also coming into classrooms where they are ready to be able to implement curriculum as they’ve been prepared for professionally and not have curriculum dictated to them.

“The flexibility for teachers to be able to design assessments that are really meaningful at the classroom level is something I believe in thoroughly, and so how much assessment we do that is across the board versus school-based and classroom-based design by the teachers is a give and take, and is about making sure that we are not spending so much time assessing that we are distracting from the opportunity to be engaged hands-on in learning for kids,” Kishimoto said. “It’s a conversation around how do you coach teachers around what those assessment results show. The strategy is really around that coaching. It’s not around saying that an assessment is a gotcha around evaluation. I don’t believe in that. I think in any industry you go into, even outside of education, you find that it’s in that coaching, support of staff and your capacity that’s going to bring excellence in the outcomes.”

Neither Chen nor Kishimoto are from the islands, but they do have Hawaii ties.

“It was never our plan to be moving to different cities, but it’s the nature of urban superintendent turnover,” Chen said. “One of the things that draws me to Hawaii as well is that you’ve had a longevity of superintendents, certainly not necessarily from the mainland, so I absolutely understand that concern, but for me and for (my husband), it’s about finding a place where we’ll remain, and having family and friends here and a support system to get started in a job and a reason for remaining, that is what both of us were looking for as a next step.”

“My daughter’s family is here on Oahu and have family in Hilo, so we have strong ties in Hawaii. This is a place we know and love, and so it would be absolutely a pleasure to come home with family,” Kishimoto said.

The full board is scheduled to interview the finalists next week Thursday, May 11.

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