Q + A, Patricia Hamamoto

Patricia Hamamoto became state superintendent of schools the hard way, rising from teacher to vice principal to principal to superintendent. Jaws dropped this spring when Hamamoto declared her own DOE “obsolete.”

Photo: jimmy forrest

Q: You graduated from Maryknoll High School. Did you attend public school at any point?

A: When I went to school, kindergarten was only half-day. Both my parents worked and they needed me in school, because there was no babysitter. So they put me in a private school and it was just easier at that point to keep me where I was.

Q: What was your first job teaching?

A: Falcon Valley High School, in Huntington Beach, Calif. My first teaching job in Hawaii was at Highlands Intermediate [in 1975]. That was for a semester, then my next year, I taught at Ilima Intermediate.

Q: What subject did you teach?

A: Social studies. That had been one of my favorite subjects as a student. It gives a sense of why things come about, how they change and evolve. Also, it focuses on individuals as the change agents. People are responsible for getting the job done, making the changes occur.

Q: What reaction did you get when you spoke to the Legislature in January and described the DOE as obsolete?

A: Generally, the people who came up to me afterwards understood what I was talking about. It helped them see things through a different lens.

Q: How did the system become obsolete?

A: It happens over time, with rapid changes in the social conditions, and funding that doesn’t necessarily keep up with what’s going on. Because we have single-source funding, when the economy goes south, our funding goes south. Over the years, we stepped back from supporting the infrastructure that supports the schools, because we were using that money to cover operations.

Q: Do you have children of your own, and where do they go to school?

A: My daughter has already graduated. She went to Roosevelt High School, before that, Kawananakoa Middle and, before that, Royal Elementary. She attended public school from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Q: Generally, public school teachers are much more likely than the general public to send their kids to private school. Any thoughts on why?

A: Generally, private schools are college prep and self-selected, because you choose to go there. The public school answer to private school is to build private school-like structures within our system. One way is by small schools or magnet schools that focus on a particular discipline, for instance, science or math, all the subjects focus on that interest.