A week after the Board of Education announced plans to look for a new schools superintendent, the current head of Hawaii's public schools still hasn't been told why the board is making the move.
"I think the word from the board is that the governor wants a new direction and I'm not certain what that is so you'll have to check with him on that," said state Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.
Matayoshi's contract ends next June, and at a BOE meeting Tuesday a four-member committee was selected to conduct a national search for her replacement.
But also at the board meeting, Matayoshi's supporters urged board members to reconsider.
"This is obviously politically driven and sends a sharp message that politics trumps results." DOE Public Charter School Commissioner Kalehua Cruz said.
Jessica Worchel, of the DOE Office of Hawaiian Education, said she's concerned "we decided too quickly that Superintendent Matayoshi is not the right fit without clearly knowing what direction we are heading."
The decision to replace Matayoshi comes amid mounting tension between the superintendent and Gov. David Ige's administration.
Matayoshi has been at the helm of Hawaii's public schools since 2010, overseeing implementation of a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant, the new, tougher Common Core standards and a controversial performance-based teacher evaluation system.
Despite early missteps, Hawaii has seen progress on key education reforms under Matayoshi's leadership and has been applauded by the U.S. Department of Education for its work.
But Matayoshi has also attracted criticism, including for the state's handling of hot classrooms last summer and for a perceived top-down style of leadership. And the state Education Department has also struggled to bolster achievement among economically-disadvantaged students and other at-risk populations.
Matayoshi believes under her watch public schools have improved, and points to gains in student achievement.
"We are trying very hard to work together and make sure that things are coherent," she said, "because that's in the best interest of the students and the department."
Board members acknowledged Matayoshi's work, but didn't elaborate on why a search was being conducted.
"I do recognize and appreciate what Superintendent Matayoshi has done over the years," BOE Chairman Lance Mizumoto said.
Board member Brian DeLima added, "I do want to state and I think the public needs to understand that our superintendent is not being terminated."
The BOE said the search will take months, and members hope to have a successor in place by July 1.
"I think the main thing, I wish I would have had more time to get out to schools and see the kids and the teachers," she said, adding that she advises the next superintendent to remain focused on students.
"Believe in what they can do. They're amazing," she said.
Hawaii has the 10th-largest public school system in the nation, with about 187,000 students and 256 schools statewide.