John Sosa, Kaiser High School Principal
John Sosa, Kaiser High School Principal

HONOLULU – Kaiser High School’s Principal John Sosa was put on leave by the state Department of Education on September 21, just one day after receiving two prestigious awards for his leadership at the East Oahu school.

The Department of Education hasn’t commented on the allegations or status of the investigation into Sosa for more than a month, but his removal has caused a chain reaction in east Oahu public schools that concerns two state Senators representing the district.

In a letter to State DOE School Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi hand delivered on Tuesday, October 29, Sens. Laura Thielen, D-Kailua-Hawaii Kai, and Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head, the Senate minority leader, noted since Sosa was removed, Justin Mew, principal of Niu Valley, was transferred temporarily to cover for Sosa and Brendan Burns of Aina Haina Elementary temporarily took Mew’s position at Nui Valley.

“It has been over one month, and the investigation has not been resolved.  Meanwhile the domino effect has impacted three schools tremendously,” Thielen and Slom wrote.

The Senators outlined three main concerns, including interrupting progress on implementing new teacher standards and common core initiatives; Gayer working as both the principal and vice principal of Aina Haina leading to quick burn out; and the department’s “inexcusable cavalier attitude to promptly concluding investigations where key personnel are removed from schools”, which they said “sends a strong message to all schools that the work they do is not important.”

“If the Department really valued the work at the school level, it would not leave three schools adrift in uncertainty for this length of time,” the senators wrote.

They asked the DOE to finish its investigation promptly. “We do not wish in any way to influence the outcome of the investigation. We trust the Department to handle the investigation professionally. However, the longer an investigation takes, the greater the damage to the students, families, school personnel, and ultimately student achievement, at all three of these schools.”

According to the DOE, Sosa joined the Hawaii State Department of Education in 1969 as a teacher at Hilo Union Elementary, became Pahoa High and Elementary’s principal in 1979, and served in a number of state administration roles prior to joining Kaiser High as its principal in 2008.

Sosa is credited with leading the transformation of the 1,100-plus student Kaiser High campus.

In 2010, the east Honolulu school earned the rigorous and prestigious designation of an authorized International Baccalaureate school.

The DOE said enrollment in the IB program and Advanced Placement courses has been growing in recent years under Sosa, while reading and math scores have been steadily rising at Kaiser. In 2008-2009, the DOE reported 78 percent of students at Kaiser were reading at grade level, and 49 percent were proficient in math. By the 2011-12 school year, proficiency at Kaiser had reached 86 percent in reading and 56 percent in math.

In May, Sosa was named Hawaii’s National Association of Secondary School Principal of the Year.

On May 20, Small Business Hawaii Entrepreneurial Education Foundation, an organization Slom heads, named him “Educator of the Year.”

The senators said they are wary of the DOE’s timetable because several years ago, the DOE removed a Kindergarten teacher from Aikahi Elementary School in Kailua for what was supposed to be two weeks for a personnel investigation, but the DOE took so long to resolve the issue, that the teacher was out of the classroom for the entire second semester, leaving the students with a temporary teacher the entire time.

“The lackadaisical attitude to administrative investigations for key personnel removed from the school is absolutely unacceptable,” Thielen and Slom wrote. “In cases where removal is necessary, the department must dedicate the resources to complete the investigation and reach an administrative decision promptly.”

When contacted by email on Tuesday, Donalyn Dela Cruz, spokesperson for the DOE, said the Superintendent had not reviewed the letter from the Senators.