Hiring panel narrows search for new charter commission director

Updated Thursday, Jan. 30, with a new headline and clarification on the panel considering candidates.  

A panel comprised of state education officials has narrowed the search for a new Idaho Public Charter School Commission director to four, with finalists ranging from one of the commission’s own to the president and CEO of a national charter-authorizing group.

Longtime commission director Tamara Baysinger left the organization in December, amid palpable tension between the commission and some of the schools it oversees. Since 2006, Baysinger worked as the top staffer for the seven-member commission, which serves under the State Board and oversees nearly three-fourths of Idaho’s 56 public charter schools.

An interview panel of officials from the commission, the State Board Education and the State Department of Education this week interviewed five finalists for the job, according to State Board spokesman Mike Keckler. One candidate withdrew after the interviews.

State Board Executive Director Matt Freeman hopes to make a final hiring decision within the next two weeks, Keckler said.

Here are the finalists:

Jenn Thompson

Jenn Thompson presents during a Public School Charter Commission meeting.

Thompson joined the commission in 2017 and works as the organization’s finance and program resource manager. She spent 10 years working as a teacher, principal, and trustee in Idaho charters, according to the commission’s website. She has worked with schools across the country on policy development, governance support, and establishing school start-ups. She holds a Master of Arts degree in literary studies and a Master of Education degree in education administration. She is an Idaho-certified pre-K-12 administrator and secondary teacher.

Greg Richmond

Greg Richmond

Richmond has served as the president and CEO of the Chicago-based National Association of Charter School Authorizers since 2005, according to The 74. Richmond’s organization works with charter authorizers nationwide to improve authorizing practices and schools. The organization last year recommended that Idaho’s charter commission develop higher standards for charters. Prior to joining NACSA, the 74 reports, Richmond worked as Chicago Public Schools’ chief officer for new school development, where he established the district’s Charter Schools Office.

Eric Sobotta

Eric Sobotta

Sobotta is a supervisor at Pasco, Wash.-based Nueva Esperanza Leadership Academy, a Christian private school that touts a “small, safe environment designed for students to discover their passion as they grow personally and academically,” according to the school’s website. Sobotta engages in “servant leadership development, trauma-informed practice, with a focus on student achievement, for the benefit of ALL students,” his LinkedIn profile reads.

Edward Longfield

Edward Longfellow

Longfield last year retired as the longtime superintendent of the Manitou Springs School District, in Manitou Springs, Colo., according to The Gazette of Colorado Springs. He spearheaded advanced-placement robotics classes, STEM programs, ballet lessons and orchestra instruction while at the district, the Gazette reported. Under Longfield’s leadership, the district received the state’s Accredited with Distinction ranking, indicating high academic achievement and progress, according to The Gazette.

Director shakeup comes at a tense time

Basinger’s announcement to resign accompanied tension between the commission and several of its charters.

In June, leaked audio from a closed-door commission meeting revealed frustration among commissioners and staff over continued low performance of some of its charters and administrators, financial “malpractice” and the prospect of closing schools that continue to struggle.

Administrators at some of the schools accused the commission and Baysinger of “outright lies and blatant hypocrisy.” One advocacy group called for the immediate disbandment of the entire commission.

Since its inception in 2005, the commission has closed just one Idaho charter school.

Panelists who conducted the interviews for a new director include:

  • Kurt Liebich, State Board member
  • Brian Scigliano, Charter School Commission member
  • Michelle Clement Taylor, State Department of Education school choice coordinator
  • Matt Freeman, State Board executive director
Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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