It’s Time For Hamamoto To Go

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - July 08, 2009
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DOE superintendent Patricia Hamamoto

News item: Hawaii public school teachers will now pay 20 percent of health care costs, rather than 10 percent. The annual co-payment maximum before the insurance pays 100 percent of cost rises from $6,000 to $7,500 per family.

More bad news for teachers already under the No Child Left Behind gun and feeling increasingly left behind themselves in a budget-strapped and floundering DOE system.

I’ve lived here nearly 50 years. I’ve never seen our public schools rise anywhere near a stature admired by other states, praised by national education experts, or turning out students performing above average in reading skills and on universal tests. Yet we persist in what we’ve been doing, and the parents with children in underperforming schools seem perfectly content with what they have.

It’s a paralyzing mystery to me because if I were king I’m quite sure I would: * Change the superintendent of education. Pat Hamamoto’s been at the helm too long and done too little. We regularly change governors and UH presidents. Why hang on to one schools superintendent?

* Change the current top-down-marching-orders system. One outside educator I’ve contacted who has experience in accrediting our schools describes our district superintendents this way: “Their say-so is godlike and everyone kowtows to their whims because they have control over all administrators’ futures.”

* Give almost complete control of how to run a school to the principals and teachers. It’s my belief that nobody knows what works in each school better than the people working there. If they can’t make the school perform up to standards, then it’s their necks.

* Make a greater effort to recruit teachers from the same communities that house the schools in the hope that they can be influential in bringing more parents to the table. The lack of parent participation outside of our most affluent communities is the bane of the system.

I’ve long been a supporter of our central board of education system, but I can’t justify my support much longer if the result is going to continue to put so much control in the hands of district superintendents. In that case, I’d rather see island-by-island boards while retaining the statewide funding system. The worst possible scenario would be island-by-island funding. The poorest schools in the poorest or fewest-families-with-children districts would suffer the most.

But above all for the moment, we need change at the very top. It’s healthy. Hamamoto’s a good person. But long-serving superintendents tend to build up their own little empires of sycophants. They implant district superintendents dependent on them for their jobs and not likely to be change advocates. I’d suggest five or six years tops for a superintendent.

And as my outside expert added in his observation of us: “It seems to me that Hawaii has so much to do to improve its system of education, that the chances of that happening under the present political system are nigh impossible. When everything is dictated from the top down, the people on the firing line, teachers and classified, are not willing to take the high heat necessary for reform.”

And his final thought: “Administrators at all levels should act as facilitators and supporters of classroom instruction, and do everything in their power to give teachers the tools necessary to do an excellent job. Money is not everything; being valued for doing an excellent job is priceless for most people.”

Amen, brother!


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