Hawaii Education Q&A: Why don't student representatives get a vote?

Wai Sam Lao, the student representative on the Board of Education.

photo: harold julian

web exclusive

For more than a decade, HONOLULU Magazine has critically examined the state’s public education system. As part of this year’s coverage, associate editor Tiffany Hill sat down with Kathryn Matayoshi, the state Department of Education superintendent, and Don Horner, the Board of Education chair, two of the most influential people in Hawaii’s public education.

The questions for this exclusive, video Q&A come from both the magazine staff and the public, and touch on a variety of subjects, such as what the department and board are doing to reverse negative public perceptions, how teacher evaluations will work, whether or not Matayoshi and Horner sent their children to public school and more.

Below is a bonus question not included in the video. To hear more, watch the video here. Read this year’s public education feature here. Visit honolulumagazine.com for additional education coverage.

Q: In researching our May cover story on public schools, I talked to a lot of students to get their perspective. During my time at Moanalua High School, I spoke with student Wai Sam Lao, who is also the student representative on the Board of Education. Although she’s a board member, she does not have voting rights. The possibility of having a voting student board member has been discussed for decades. Will it ever happen? Should it?

A: Kathryn Matayoshi: That’s a hard one to figure out. It’s been before the Legislature many time, it’s gotten far, but never quite across the finish line. So, that’s a very hard one to predict.

A: Don Horner: The reason the students want a vote is they want a voice. Having one extra vote out of ten I don’t know is necessarily going to give them the voice that they deserve. There are a lot of voices. The military doesn’t have a vote [in the BOE], parents don’t have a vote [in the BOE]. There’s a lot of very important stakeholders that don’t have a vote on the board. So I’m not against the student having a vote, but that’s a Legislative decision. I’m for them having a voice, which, to me, is more important than a vote. I don’t know that there’s been a time in Wai Sam’s tenure, for example, that we haven’t been in concert. We’ve had very few votes that weren’t unanimous. But back to the voice, through her leadership, and the leadership of the Student Council, they’ve made a significant change in the way they elect their representative, and, more importantly, how they run their committees. Those committees are in alignment with the same structure the board has and can meet with our committees in policy…There’s going to be a lot more dialogue between the two groups. Frankly, [students] are our customers, and we want to hear our customers’ voices. It’s more about hearing the voice; the votes are important but equally important is hearing that voice.


Want to read more of our education coverage from May 2012? Check out the links below.

A Tale of Two Schools in Hawaii

Video Q&A with Don Horner and Kathryn Matayoshi

From Iolani School to Moanalua High School: A Parents’ Tale

Q&A: How is the DOE helping poor-performing schools?

Q&A: Why don't all public schools have midterms and final exam weeks?

Q&A: What do schools have in place to ensure communication with parents?

Q&A: Kamehameha Schools Focuses on Public Schools Along the Waianae Coast