Dr. Mitsugi Nakashima, who has been the state Board of Education chairman for
six years and vice chairman for four of his 12 years on the board, says he
wants to do more for public education in Hawai’i.
“I have an abiding
interest in public education, and want to at least influence improvement of
public education,” said Nakashima, 71, a Kalaheo resident and lifelong educator
who is seeking re-election this November. He’s one of three candidates hoping
to be the two who emerge from this Saturday’s primary election.
from the state Department of Education system after 35 years, several of them
as Kaua’i district superintendent.
“I thought it was natural for me if I
was going to continue in public education, to serve on the Board of Education,”
Nakashima, who grew up in a home where his parents spoke Japanese
as their first language, is a product of the island’s public-school system. He
said the need for every student to be proficient in reading and writing remains
a key to student success in school and, he feels, in life.
Only the ancient
societies didn’t have a written language, where the spoken word was how
knowledge was passed down from one generation to the next, he said.
without reading and writing proficiency, “school is a drag” for some students,
While he acknowledges that there are “outstanding” students in the
public schools, more so than when he was in school, and that there have been
improvements in public education, not all students share “a universal sense of
enthusiasm, motivation, drive to success.”
For many students, education
isn’t important, he bemoaned. And, in many ways, these students don’t like
education because they’re not successful in the classroom, Nakashima
If they don’t like school, they won’t feel motivated to do well.
Forcing them to attend school won’t help, he said.
The quandary is how to
make school satisfying for all students, he continued. Children need a sense
that school is “what I want to be about, and (where) I learn,” he
During his time on the board, the state has revised its literacy
policy, stating that all children will be literate by the end of third
Turning that policy into reality depends to a large extent on the
competency and proficiency of primary-grade teachers, Nakashima said. The job
of the school system, then, is to make sure all teachers, especially in the
primary grades, are proficient teachers of reading, he said.
he said, teacher-training institutions don’t do a good enough job training
Nakashima said he doesn’t have a problem with different
techniques being employed to teach reading, as long as students learn to
Hearing, reading and comprehending are all different things. Students
must know what words mean, read critically, and do what he calls “wide reading”
(a variety of books on different subjects) to become proficient, he
Nakashima said he has heard from several teachers that teaching is
not as fun for them as it used to be, and that many of them are eagerly
awaiting their 55th birthdays, when they can retire.
He said the board must
continue to receive feedback from school-level staff, many of whom are “on the
verge of burnout.” Retraining for the standards-based education system
preferred by Dr. Paul LaMahieu, state education superintendent, sometimes adds
to this frustration, Nakashima said.
“It’s got to be much more precise than
it used to be,” he said. Getting through a book is simply not enough, he
Determining how to teach, and how to measure how students are
learning, may mean that statewide standardized tests must change, too, he
He said “tailor-made assessments” may be needed to match the state’s
new, standards-based education system.
Sometimes, when new concepts are
implemented, enough time isn’t allowed to see if they’ll work or not. There is
some need to “stay the course,” and not change when a revolutionary new
technique comes along, he said.
It becomes worse when teachers and other
educational professionals encourage their peers to not work too hard on new
initiatives, as they’ll just be changed, anyway, he said.
Among the major
achievements he points to during his time on the board is the hiring of
LaMahieu, an educator experienced in the standards-based education
The superintendent’s job is a complicated one, and so was the
hiring process. LaMahieu has put together a good strategic plan, which will
need to be modified as it is implemented, so that standards-based education can
work, Nakashima said.
But, just as an architect with an exceptional plan
for a house fails without skilled carpenters and other craftsmen to build it
correctly, so will LaMahieu’s final product without proper implementation from
district superintendents, principals, vice principals, teachers and others,
On other issues, Nakashima said the statewide education
system is the best way in Hawai’i to deliver public education, even with
185,000 students. Hawai’i’s school system is among the 10 largest in the United
States, he explained.
Hawai’i is the only state without county or city
school boards, yet Nakashima doesn’t feel the solution to public education’s
problems in the state are local boards.
The federal court requirement that
specific needs be met for special-education students has presented an expensive
price tag (so far $32 million), cumbersome problem that has seen teachers with
no special training being used in special-education classrooms, and learning on
Teachers with skills in speech therapy, occupational therapy,
physical therapy, and mental health training are hard to find and in demand now
more than ever, as the number of special-education students in the state has
doubled since the court order became effective, Nakashima said.
At the same
time, the needs of students in regular classrooms can’t be ignored, either, he
All in all, the public education system has allowed him
opportunities to be productive, Nakashima said.
“For me, education has been
good,” he said.
Staff writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at 245-3681
(ext. 224) and [email@example.com]