State charter school leader fired
BOE says Shon wasn't taking
program in right direction
by Nancy Cook LauerHONOLULU -- Saying he wasn't taking charter
schools in the direction they needed to go, members of the
Board of Education on Friday defended firing the head of the
Charter School Administrative Office, even as charter school
officials decried the move as a power play by the
The action also exposed dissent on the BOE about
whether the board should govern charter schools at all, or
whether a new board should be created to run them.
board voted not to renew the contract of Charter Schools
Director Jim Shon in a closed session Thursday night. BOE
members at Friday's news conference acknowledged that grant
money has increased and test scores have risen at charter
schools during Shon's two-year tenure, and they praised the
director for some of his work.
"There are a lot of good
things that Dr. Shon has done over the approximately two years
that he's served," said BOE Chairman Randall Yee, "But in
terms of the board's decision and deliberation, we felt that
we were ready to go in a different
will ask charter schools to compile a list of recommended
candidates, but the board has sole discretion on hiring and
firing the director. It's not known how long that process will
take, or how long it will be before an interim director is
Yee said he wasn't at liberty to talk about
what that direction might be until the board has more time to
discuss it. He said he would also be talking more at length
with Shon, whom Yee notified of his termination by telephone
Thursday night. Shon could not be reached for
At their own news conference, a group of
principals and officials of charter schools blasted the board
for not allowing the state's 27 charter schools to have a say
in the decision. Two percent of the $49 million charter school
budget goes to the administrative office and director's
"Things are going smoothly. Academically, our
kids are doing great," said Steve Hirakami, director of Hawaii
Academy of Arts & Science in Pahoa and himself a former
executive director of the charter schools office. "Who in
their right mind would take over this position when after one
year, you get evaluated (behind) closed doors, and then the
decision is, pack your bags and get going?"
Hirakami noted that charter schools often
accept students who aren't thriving in the public school
system and help them turn their lives around. He noted that
students at his school help paint the walls, compared to
students in the public schools who are often vandalizing
His feelings were echoed by Curtis Muraoka,
co-director of West Hawaii Explorations in Kailua-Kona, who
accused the BOE of political maneuvering.
of the BOE have created the undeniable appearance that
elements in the BOE actively and tacitly block charter school
progress," Muraoka said in a statement. "We view this as
another in a long line of barriers erected by the BOE and are
disheartened that progress in education comes with this kind
Those on both sides of the issue agree that
one of the problems is the current requirement that the
director be both an advocate for charter schools and their
policeman. Former directors say the dual role is difficult,
and it seems at times that the BOE is interested only in the
oversight function, not the advocacy one.
to rile some board members by lobbying the Legislature over
control of the authorization of new charter schools. His
termination shouldn't have come as a surprise: He'd been on a
month-to-month contract for a year.
"One of the
requirements is that the executive director support board
policies and board decisions," Yee said. "There have been
questions with respect to his testimony as to whether or not
he was properly stating the board's position."
larger issue of who should govern charter schools, BOE member
Cec Heftel, vice-chairman of the board committee on charter
schools, said he thinks they should have their own separate
"I think the charter schools should have a
separate board of leadership and responsibility unrelated to
the Board of Education," Heftel said. "I think there should be
a separate board for charter schools, and I think they should
feel that they are equally important in this community as all
Heftel was in the minority on that one.
Other BOE members were quick to disagree.
are good reasons why you might think it would be advantageous
to have a separate board, I think the real problem would be
then you would need a separate department, the infrastructure
to support that separate board," said BOE member Breene
Harimoto, "and if you look at all that, it would be a
duplicate of the (Department of Education), and I'm not sure
that people understand that."
Nancy Cook Lauer can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.