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Kishimoto to leave DOE

Nearly four years after taking the helm of the state Department of Education, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto announced Tuesday that she would not seek to renew her contract.

Her last day with the department is July 30.

“This has been a great four years,” Kishimoto said during a Zoom call Tuesday afternoon. “We have pushed innovation and new thinking around how do we address equity of access, and I’m very proud of our public school employees … and our partners who have stood with us in getting important work done.”

Kishimoto’s decision comes amid sometimes contentious discussions surrounding her contract renewal, which she says distracts from the important work of the department. She also was criticized regarding the full reopening of schools, which were closed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kishimoto was tapped to lead the DOE nearly four years ago, initially signing a three-year contract that began Aug. 1, 2017, and was set to expire June 30, 2020.

The BOE, however, voted in December 2018 to extend her original contract by one year. It’s set to expire July 31.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, unions that represent teachers and principals, recently opposed renewing her contract.

“The conversation about my contract went from almost no conversation to a big distraction. … I am not interested in this playing out either in the media nor by sound bites. We have too important of work to do,” Kishimoto said. “I hold a tremendous kuleana for being accountable to our kids and families, and to have my contract discussed and commented on in some very disrespectful ways … ends up reflecting on the district, on the good work we’ve done, on the kids, on our families.

“I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in making sure that we continue our work,” she continued. “This is really hard work. … So, we’re going to stay focused, and I’m going to make sure we stay focused by just taking myself out of that formula right now. We’re just going to be focused on kids and on what we need to do collectively. And that’s really what’s driving this decision.”

Kishimoto said she was aware her contract was ending this year, and most superintendents in that position want to be able to talk to their boards and community about the right leader for the next level of work in the school district.

“I have spent four years talking about the power and promise of public education and talking about re-framing how we think about public schools as hubs of innovation for business and industry,” she said. “I don’t want that momentum to stop, and there are a lot of people invested in that. If the best thing to do is to transfer … my leadership role currently to the next person, then I’m going to do it and do it well.”

In the coming months, Kishimoto said she’ll focus on reopening plans for the fourth quarter and preparation for the next school year, as well as laying groundwork for things that must be done during the summer.

“There’s work that we have to do to remain focused on students and what students and their families need at this time,” she said. “… I will be working with the board on transitioning so that the next leader, I can pass the baton to them positively and keep this work going.”

After her contract expires, what comes next for the superintendent remains to be seen.

“I’m leaving myself open right now,” she said. “I don’t know what my next step plans are. My next step plans right now is to get us through the rest of this school year and transition well.”

HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said in a statement posted to the union’s website Tuesday, “We wish Christina Kishimoto success in her future endeavors while we look forward to working towards securing the schools our keiki deserve.”

Kishimoto was selected for the leadership role out of 92 candidates. Prior to her stint in Hawaii, she served as superintendent and chief executive officer for Gilbert Public Schools in Arizona, and has also served as superintendent of a school district in Connecticut. She has a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a doctorate from Columbia University in New York.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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