Superintendent's term resulted in higher test scores, BOE support
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer
State schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto, who resigned yesterday, enjoyed strong support from the state Board of Education, with her original four-year contract renewed twice.
Hamamoto inherited the public school system in 2001 just as the state and the rest of the nation were subjected to the unprecedented federal mandates of No Child Left Behind.
Her success in raising test scores gained her the respect of many educators and meant she likely could have kept her job beyond the end of her current term, which was 10 months away.
Board member Donna Ikeda said there was no reason to believe her contract would not have been renewed if she had chosen to seek a longer term.
"She's probably one of the longest serving superintendents, and for good reason," Ikeda said. "She's always been for the kids, from the first time I met her, the kids always came first. She's done a very good job."
Under her leadership, student test scores under NCLB testing have drastically increased in the core subject areas of both reading and math, though the majority of Hawai'i schools are beginning to miss federal targets as expectations increase toward the 2014 deadline when all students will be required to show proficiency.
About 65 percent of public school students were proficient in reading last year. That compares with 39 percent when testing began in 2002. Likewise, 44 percent of students demonstrated proficiency in math, compared with 19 percent in 2002.
"She was saddled with the requirements of No Child Left Behind right in her first year. We are where we are today thanks to her leadership," Ikeda said.
Hamamoto always considered herself an educator first, Ikeda said, but it can be said that she embraced the political nature of her job in 2004 in her unprecedented speech before a joint session of the state House and Senate. The speech came just two days after Gov. Linda Lingle delivered her State of the State address outlining her plans for education reform.
Hamamoto's speech set the stage for the state's reform of the public school system known as the Reinventing Education Act of 2004, or Act 51. The legislation changed the way the DOE handled its budget, giving individual school principals control over an increased portion of their campus' money. It mandated a unified calendar for all public schools, reduced class sizes, and required the DOE to take over services previously handled by other state agencies, such as bus service and the construction process, reducing the time it takes for schools to see repairs, maintenance and new construction.
While Hamamoto had unwavering support from the state Board of Education, her department often butted heads with Lingle's administration, most notably over issues such as the proposal to establish seven school boards across the state as opposed to one, funding teacher drug testing, and even the current furloughs of public school teachers.
Most recently, Lingle claimed there was a lack of accountability in the public school system, and proposed a constitutional amendment for the upcoming session to make the DOE a Cabinet-level department, under the governor's control.
In June, Lingle cut the Department of Education budget by 13.85 percent, or $270.3 million, over two years. When budget cuts from the state Legislature were added, the $1.8 billion public school budget was cut by $468 million.
Those cuts prompted negotiations with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which resulted in a two-year contract that included 17 furlough days a year.
Since that contract was announced, Hamamoto and the state administration had been working together to reduce the number of furlough days, first by allowing schools to reassign a limited number of planning days as instruction days, and then through a combination of using money from the state's rainy-day fund and reassigning planning days.
Garrett Toguchi, chairman of the state Board of Education, said he could not point to any one reason why the superintendent decided to end her time in the DOE before her contract expired. He said she was frustrated by the furlough situation, but it was not the reason she cited for leaving.
"She has been around for a long time and faced a lot of difficult times as superintendent," he said. "She said it was just time for her to take a break, for other people to take over."