During her first public appearance since being named a finalist for Hawaii's vacant school's superintendent post, Christina Kishimoto said the state's public schools would be "models of excellence" under her leadership.
"We are going to be the number one district in the United States," Kishimoto said. "It's about bold leadership around things that need to be done to say, 'This is not about the adults in the community, this is about the kids.'"
Kishimoto is currently the superintendent of an Arizona school district, as well as one of the two candidates to replace outgoing superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.
The other is Linda Chen, an education consultant in Baltimore.
"At the core, I'm a teacher," Chen said. Both candidates attended a meet-and-greet session for Hawaii's media members on Thursday.
As Hawaii schools superintendent, Chen says, teacher recruitment and retention would be high on her list.
"I bring a love of listening and learning, a determination and commitment to equity and access for all of our students," she said. "What I'm very interested in doing is working with the community to really grow our teachers here."
Her resume includes education administration jobs in Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia. Critics have noted that each of those stints have averaged only about three years, giving off the appearance of job-hopping.
"It's the nature of urban superintendent turnover," she said.
Kisihimoto has no teaching background, and one recent contract in Connecticut wasn't renewed. In Arizona, she's been accused of abusing authority and has butted heads with a school board that narrowly voted to renew her contract.
On Thursday she defended her role, saying she re-unified a 'dysfunctional board,' distributed 50,000 portable computers to middle- and high school students, and turned that school system into a high-performing district.
"In the two systems that I have led as superintendent, we've had performance growth off the charts under my leadership," she said.
Both candidates believe they have the expertise necessary to successfully oversee Hawaii's $1.9 billion education operating budget – and implement a new blueprint to transform education, empower schools, and embrace innovation.
"I think we need to always look at multiple measures of learning, not just numbers on a page," Chen said.
"We want to make sure our kids love to come to school, want to come to school, have fun in learning and be able to pursue their passions and interests," Kishimoto said.
Neither has lived here, but both candidates have local connections. The Board of Education will interview the candidates on May 11, then announce their selection after a contract is signed.