New head of Hawaii's public schools on a mission: To make learning a little more fun

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Don't be surprised to see Hawaii's new public school superintendent at high school football games. Christina Kishimoto sees them as gathering places.

"Football games are great places to blend in in the stands with the students and the parents," she said.

Kishimoto, 48, is on the starting line of a three-year contract. Over the next 36 months she hopes to elevate the image of Hawaii's public schools.

"In three years I would like the message, the narrative around public education in Hawaii to be a very positive one -- one that reflects what's happening in terms of quality," she said.

One area she'll tackle is the condition of facilities. Of the 256 schools under her supervision, 50 campuses are over 100 years old.

Kishimoto's visited five schools so far and seen some with upgrades and others needing major work.

"The school facility is always the first impression you have as a child, as a community member, as a parent coming into a school building," she said.

Kishimoto envisions classrooms as thinktanks where students join in project planning and where teachers can be more creative without the fear of failure.

"My message to teachers is, 'I want you to try some new things for students. Some of it's going to work. Some of it is not.' What's important is we create this dynamic learning environment," she said.

She inherits the uphill battle to hire and hold onto qualified teachers.

"One of the ways in which we can do this and I think can do this effectively is encouraging students to consider the field of teaching and creating teacher preparation academies within our junior high and high schools," Kishimoto said.

Of her three superintendent stints, Hawaii has by far the biggest school district with 180,000 students, 22,500 Department of Education employees, and a $1.9 billion operating budget.

But the New York native isn't overwhelmed. She'll focus on the same end game that she did as school superintendent in Connecticut and Arizona.

"Learning is supposed to be fun. And if kids are not having fun in class and they're telling us that they're bored, then we've missed something," she said.

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