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The New Chief

Patricia Hamamoto’s style is to work with what you have the power to change.

“This new administration is one that connects and relates to schools, to the students, and to the community,” new Education Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto told legislators in May, as she presented her supplemental budget request for $52 million.

There is much connecting and relating to do. There are myriad and mammoth challenges with which to contend. The top two on her list are crippling budgetary restrictions and reductions and a severe nationwide shortage of teachers and administrators.

“Regardless of all these issues or these barriers or these challenges, come Monday morning, the school bell will ring at 8 o’clock, students will be there and in 13 years they will graduate from a public school in Hawaii,” says Hamamoto.

“I need to understand, and I need to see for the Department of Education, a comprehensive organized system that supports what goes on in the classroom. So I ultimately take a look at what I want in the classroom.”

She’s flattened the power structure, aiming for better communication and school support. Where there used to be seven districts headed by superintendents, now there are 15 complex-area superintendents. She’s putting a new emphasis on “best practices” and restructured the department, noting that it’s been done without legislative mandates and emergency appropriations. There are now four main offices:
1) Office of Curriculum and Instruction, responsible for standards implementation, student support services, school improvement and community leadership.
2) Office of Business Services, responsible for facilities, transportation, safety and security, and food services.
3) Office of Human Resources, responsible for certification and development of personnel.
4) Office of Information and Technology Services, responsible for student information, system information and administration and network support in the form of statewide services to all schools and offices.

Hamamoto has pointed out where the knife the executive branch has taken to the DOE’s budget is going to leave gaping wounds. She told legislators that requests for reading specialists to support language-art skills, to replace outdated science equipment and replenish consumable science materials, teacher-peer assistance programs, principal incentives and a mandated rental fee of $700,000 to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for the use of the site of Nanaikapono Elementary have been denied.

Hamamoto contends that there will be accountability through restructuring. The newly restructured and refocused Office of Information and Technology Services will collect and crunch new data. Complex superintendents, as well as principals, will have that data with which to hold teachers accountable.

“We also expect that principals will be held accountable,” says Hamamoto, “but in order to do that, we need to put all the other pieces in place, like the resources, the training, the supports and, what I consider most important for a principal, coaching and mentoring. We’ve got to give them the gift of time so that they are able to work with the teachers in the classroom.”

According to Hamamoto, the accountability piece would be measured in terms of continuous improvement in math scores, reading scores and public engagement.

“If we sit here in five years, I would expect that I’d be able to give you the number of high schools, middle schools and elementary schools that have cutting-edge programs, that have shown increases in student achievement and for those schools that may not have made the kinds of progress that we would like or they would like, what kind of supports we’re giving them and all that data is supported,” she says.

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Hawaii Business,March