No input, no impact: The door’s still open to catch Hawaii’s new schools superintendent survey

Beth-Ann Kozlovich

with Beth-Ann Kozlovich

HONOLULU—Don’t say they aren’t trying. The State Board of Education’s (BOE) extended deadline of August 15 has one purpose: to give more people the chance to give input in the search for a new schools superintendent. As of now, about 750 people have taken the confidential survey, with slightly less than 50 percent of the responses coming from employees of the Department of Education.

BOE Chair Garrett Toguchi thinks “1000 would have been a nice round number. It’s something that shows a lots of interest by people and the fact that it’s not all employees would be another important thing because our first perception was that it would be a lot of department employees.”

Though the total number of current responses may sound small—especially in a state which seems rife with armchair management by those not formally involved with public education administration—Lee Goeke says the response is a credible number and he also expects they will pick up more responses before this Sunday’s cutoff. Goeke is a principal and owner of Human Resources Solutions for Public Education in Vancouver, WA and has some history with Hawaii.

For the past five years, the human resource consultant has worked with public schools on projects ranging from the general redesign of human resource management processes to teaching recruitment and retention for Waianae High School. Goeke’s other projects include strategic planning for the Maui district, assisting Hawaii public charter schools in staff and organizational development, and collective bargaining.

The latest challenge from the BOE was to provide a proposal for methods to solicit help from stakeholders in Hawaii’s education system by designing a wish list for the next person to lead the 22,000 public education employees. The BOE and Goeke wanted the proposal to include a way to gain intellectual contributions from a cross section of the community, a geographical dispersion of the Hawaiian Islands, and demographic dispersion of administrators, teachers, parents, and community business members.

“Families have a lot of things to do nowadays and we need to do a better job of bringing them in and letting them know how they can assist.”

According to Goeke, he and the BOE “went back and forth with two different ideas—one was conducting focus groups but the difficulty with those is you can’t reach large numbers of people because of the logistics of the process. So the survey came up as a way to get a large cross section.”

Goeke and the BOE still plan to schedule focus groups later this month to validate survey findings. The focus groups will also provide opportunities for more intimate and lengthy conversation. Participants will not self-select—those already identified as stakeholders will invite others to be part of the focus groups.

Last month, Goeke led the BOE in a workshop he says was a three-hour version of the survey. Despite having to correlate the Board’s results with the survey and yet-to-be-held focus groups, Toguchi says the BOE timetable is still on track to schedule interviews with potential candidates in September and make the hire by mid-October.

The 10-minute-survey will measure the commonality of answers in four areas:

* The greatest challenge facing Hawaii’s schools in the next 3 to 5 years.
* The specific roles and responsibilities a superintendent should fill to respond to those challenges.
* The specific knowledge and necessary abilities a superintendent should have to go beyond the roles and responsibilities.
* Where the successful candidate should have acquired the needed competencies and experience in order to be best suited for the position—and the problems right now.

That last query addresses whether the new superintendent’s experience should come from education versus another field and whether the person must only have academic credentials in education versus other areas. Related to that question is a measure of the importance of having inside knowledge of the Department of Education and the whether the candidate should have worked in Hawaii. So far, Goeke says, many respondents are not attaching high priority to either criterion.

While the survey is not weighted for input from specific communities, it does contain a zip code question to reveal the demographic spread of the responses. As anticipated, Oahu has the highest concentration, with 75 to 80 percent of those received so far. But Goeke says they are getting a mix from other locations and what they were looking for. “We didn’t target any specific audience,” he says.

That’s the problem. A failure of inclusion of those who may have something to say but who are without a home computer (or might not want to use a work computer) cut out potentially important input. There was no provision for hard copy responses due to the cost and logistics of entering data. Moreover, there was no publicity campaign to specifically direct participants to public places where they could go to fill out the survey online.

“Due to the limitations of our budget, that wasn’t something we wanted to entertain,” says Toguchi.  “We were hoping that because of public access to internet connections through our library system that more people would still be able to have access to our survey.”

Relying on motivation alone to take the survey may cut the verbal complainers from the participants, but the BOE could have done a better job of getting the word out about the survey and designating neighborhood places throughout Hawaii where it could be accessed.

Toguchi says selecting a new schools superintendent is a most important decision. He has also has mentioned more than once on Hawaii Public Radio’s Town Square that he is often surprised at education hearings or open meetings where few, if any parents or interested community members, have been present. Timing may have something to do with that, but online commentary, including the current survey, is another matter.

Toguchi believes there are two issues: “When you have kids in school, it’s just a natural part of life to assume the schools will take care of everything and as those of us who have been involved with volunteer activities know, that’s not always going to be the case. Families have a lot of things to do nowadays and we need to do a better job of bringing them in and letting them know how they can assist.”

For the last seven months since the resignation and retirement of former Superintendent, Patricia Hamamoto, Hawaii has known it would need someone new to fill the job. Whatever opinion each of us may hold about the BOE, the job Ms. Hamamoto did, or what former deputy and now interim superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi has done to keep the department functioning, we all now have an opportunity to weigh in.

If you can you spare 7 minutes, you can find the survey here: or

As a teacher once said, “No input, no impact.”

The full interview with Garrett Toguchi and Lee Goeke is on the Town Square archive at If you have an idea for a show or a discussion you think is important, contact Beth-Ann Kozlovich at [email protected]