The Maui member of the state Board of Education resigned effective the end of October.
A member of the original appointed board, Wesley Lo left the panel that governs the public school system eight months before his three-year term was to end in June.
Increasing responsibilities with his job as regional chief executive officer at Maui Memorial Medical Center effectively forced him to leave the Board of Education, he said Wednesday in an interview with The Maui News.
Time constraints “just too much”
"The time constraints were just too much," Lo said. "I was really depressed that I had to step down."
In addition to being in charge of three hospitals in the county, Lo was given additional responsibilities from the Hawaii Health Systems Corp., the quasi-public entity that runs Neighbor Island public hospitals, after the departure of Bruce Anderson, HHSC chief executive officer and president, in July.
Lo said he has been given the responsibility to look into possible public-private partnerships.
As far as replacing Lo, the governor is "considering all applicants and will be making an appointment as soon as possible," said Christine Hirasa, deputy director of communications for the governor, in an email Wednesday.
The governor's nominee to the volunteer post on the nine-member board must be confirmed by the state Senate.
Lo was a member of the inaugural governor-appointed Education Board in the spring of 2011. A state constitutional amendment passed in 2010 by voters switched the board from an elected to an appointed panel.
While having high regard for the elected board, Lo said he thought the appointed board worked well. "The idea was we could have some common vision as a board" without the worry of re-election, he said. He thought the appointed board could become more focused without the politics.
"It takes time for a board to develop," he said. "We had our ups and downs. . . . We started jelling a little bit better and trusting members."
One of the initial challenges for the new board was getting a handle on the size and complexity of the state Department of Education, the only statewide public school system in the country. He thought Maui Memorial with its 1,500 employees was a large entity, but the hospital pales in comparison to the DOE with 20,000 employees, 260 schools and a "budget not in the millions (but) . . . in the billions."
"I guess that I was surprised at how big the Department of Education is . . . how complex it is," he said. "It's hard to maneuver. It took a lot of time to understand."
He was thankful for the support and counsel he received from Maui County school superintendents Lindsay Ball and Alvin Shima and also Bruce Anderson (not the same as the former HHSC head), Shima's predecessor who moved on to become Maui High School's principal.
Lo also recalled a gathering with social studies teachers who provided him with information on graduation requirements.
"I realized how little I did know about the education system," said Lo, whose children attend public schools and whose wife is a counselor at Maui High.
The departing board member had high praise for state schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi and her staff. Given the size and complexities of the DOE, Lo noted that it is difficult to make changes, saying "it's like turning the aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean."
"The superintendent and the board are taking some bold steps," he said. "It will take time. It's really exciting."
He noted the Race to the Top initiatives, improving test scores and the implementation of teacher evaluations.
There were some things he would have liked to continue to work on, such as centralizing and reorganizing nonacademic functions. He cited, for example, creating a centralized food service system instead of the current school-by-school one. The goal of centralization and reorganization would be to allow principals and teachers to focus more of their time on academics, he said.
Locally, he had two issues he wishes he could "have seen through" - the opening of the Kihei high school and the Hawaiian immersion program. The long-sought high school received $130 million in construction funding in the last Legislative session, with construction expected to begin in July 2015. At Paia Elementary School, there is a move to turn the school into a fully Hawaiian immersion school.
"Both are controversial issues I was involved in and appreciated the community input," he said.
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.