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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 13, 2010

Former schools chief to be principal at Hawaii school


By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Patricia Hamamoto

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After a brief six-week retirement, former Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto has accepted a job as the new principal of Saint Louis School.

Hamamoto resigned as chief of Hawai'i's public school system on New Year's Eve, citing personal reasons. Her resignation and retirement came just as the public school system was in the throes of unprecedented budget cuts that led to furloughs of school teachers and the shortest instructional calendar in the country.

Saint Louis School President Walter Kirimitsu announced to his students and parents yesterday that Hamamoto will become the principal of the 164-year-old all-boys academy effective Feb. 22. Kirimitsu said Hamamoto's appointment marks "a new era and new day" for the school.

"When I heard that Pat Hamamoto was retiring from the state Department of Education, and knowing her experience and the exceptional background she has had as a leader of the educational system for the state of Hawai'i, I took a chance," Kirimitsu said.

Hamamoto served more than three decades in Hawai'i's public school system the last eight years as superintendent of schools. She brings to Saint Louis a long history of dedicated service to Hawai'i's children, Kirimitsu said.

Hamamoto, who will become Saint Louis School's first female principal, said yesterday she had no intention of going back to school administration after her decision to retire from the public school system less than three months ago.

"I have such a passion for education, I just really feel good about schools. After talking to Walter about perhaps being on the board of trustees, he felt maybe I could make more of a difference being on the front line," Hamamoto said.

Hamamoto made visits to the school campus and discussed with Kirimitsu what he felt he thought she could contribute to the Catholic Marianist academy.

"When you go back on a school campus, it just starts pulling at your heartstrings," Hamamoto said.

REACTION POSITIVE

Reaction to the news prompted high praise for Hamamoto's record of accomplishment from state Board of Education members who worked closely with the former superintendent.

"I didn't think she could stay away from the kids for very long," said BOE member Donna Ikeda. "She's devoted her life to kids and education, and when she retired I didn't believe it would be for long."

Ikeda said Hamamoto handled the "difficult circumstances" in the public school system well.

"It's our loss," Ikeda said.

BOE Vice Chairwoman Karen Knudsen said the new job will allow Hamamoto to return to her roots as a school principal. Before her tenure as the chief of the state DOE in 2001, Hamamoto was principal of McKinley High School, Likelike Elementary School and Pearl City Highlands Elementary from 1987 to 1999. Her teaching career began in 1975.

"It will be interesting. Most of her professional life has been in the public school system. Maybe, to round it out, she wants to experience the private school system. Perhaps that had some appeal to her," Knudsen said.

Kirimitsu said he first contacted Hamamoto at the end of January and was interested in having her serve as a member of Saint Louis' board of trustees.

"That's how the conversation started," Kirimitsu said, "and as we spoke I took a chance and asked her, 'Would you by chance be willing to explore being our principal?' "

Saint Louis School has been without a permanent principal since the resignation of Jack Rizzo in early November. He resigned citing unspecific health reasons. Since Rizzo's resignation, Kirimitsu has served as both president and principal.

'NOT SHORT-TERM'

Kirimitsu introduced Ha-mamoto to students yesterday during a schoolwide assembly. She received an impromptu standing ovation.

"It's impressive for our students to demonstrate how excited they are. To me, it shows that even our students recognize the stature that she brings to the school," he said.

Kirimitsu also began e-mailing parents yesterday and said he has received an overwhelmingly positive response.

Hamamoto's contract term has yet to be determined. Kirimitsu said Hamamoto will spend the remainder of the current school year conducting an evaluation of the school's curriculum, teaching practices and its professional development program.

"She'll come up with the recommended changes and improvements that will be made next school year. We're working on the term of commitment . It's not short-term. We definitely want to allow enough time for her to implement needed changes," Kirimitsu said.