EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third installment in our series of profiles of candidates running for superintendent of public instruction. The series concludes Thursday with a profile of incumbent Sherri Ybarra.
Concerned with the state of public education in Idaho, Boise government teacher Cindy Wilson decided to take her own advice.
“For all my life, I’ve been teaching students they have to get involved, they have to walk the walk,” Wilson said. “So I realized that if I really felt that, I needed to jump into this. I needed to jump into it.”
Wilson squares off against Boise retiree Allen Humble in the May 15 Democratic primary.
“I decided to run because I see a need for strong leadership for public education in this state,” Wilson said. “We need someone who can work with the Legislature, who has a knowledge of every area of the state — our rural and urban communities — and who can build consensus and work with the stakeholders.”
Wilson’s top priorities include:
- Increasing literacy rates by third grade.
- Investing in preschool and early childhood learning.
- Focusing on teacher retention by investing in competitive salaries.
In 2015, Republican Gov. Butch Otter appointed Wilson to the Board of Correction, touting her experience on his Task Force for Improving Education and her involvement with the Idaho Law Foundation. Wilson’s husband, Wayne, also works as a corrections officer.
“Serving on the Board of Corrections, I realize how closely connected education and corrections are,” Wilson said. “There are many studies that show if students are not reading at grade level by third grade, that is a predictor of who will end up in the prison population in future.”
For years, the GOP-controlled Legislature has resisted calls for state sponsored pre-K. Opponents argue that the primary responsibility for educating a child rests with the parents, and say the state should fix the existing public school system before expanding into pre-K.
“I agree with them. I believe the primary responsibility lies in the home,” Wilson said. “But the reality is we have many homes where children don’t have a parent that is available to them to work with them on preparation for kindergarten.
“Too many are falling through the cracks,” Wilson continued. “One of the best ways to fix that is to provide early childhood learning.”
Casey Lindorfer, the band director at Boise’s Capital High School, said he became a Wilson fan after watching her work on Capital’s leadership team, and after working in her classroom during student-focused intervention time.
“I knew she was a great teacher because of what I heard from the kids,” Lindorfer said. “But I actually saw the real results in class. I was astounded by how much respect she received from her students, and gave her students.”
Lindorfer said Wilson’s education experience and leadership qualities would make her an excellent state superintendent.
“The first thing I thought is I need to help make sure that she has the best chance at winning that election,” Lindorfer said. “We need somebody like that, who wants the best for kids at all the time, to be in charge of public instruction.”
One thing Wilson sees as missing at the State Department of Education is meaningful, long-term student input.
In her classroom and in school hallways, Wilson talks to her students about the challenges they face. She asks them how many know a student who has dropped out of school, who is homeless or who dreamed of going to college, but was unable to do so. One morning last month, Wilson asked her students if they knew peers in those situations. Nearly every hand went up.
“My favorite thing to do is ask students what they think the needs are in schools,” Wilson said. “I’d like to bring more student involvement to the SDE.”
Collette Raptosh, a Capital senior who helped organize the Idaho Women’s March in 2017, said Wilson’s class is the one she looks forward to, and she says Wilson is one of the only teachers who has never put her to sleep.
Collette said Wilson’s greatest teaching strength is in leading her class to engage in controversial topics without the name-calling, labeling and partisan bickering that plagues America’s political discourse.
“A lot of teachers are afraid of getting too controversial,” Colette said. “She makes it so students realize it’s normal to talk about things and the difference she makes is you’re allowed to express how you feel. It’s not a problem, it’s not heated, it’s just talking. It’s not controversial.”
When she was in high school, Wilson served a stint as a student page in the Idaho Legislature. That experience inspired her interest in government and politics.
Wilson began her education career while living in Pierce, when she was called in as a sub.
“I fell in love with it,” Wilson said. “It was a really special time.”
After returning to school, Wilson dedicated herself to her education career. She has taught in Pierce, Orofino, Shelley, West Ada and Boise. Although Wilson has more than 30 years of education experience, she has not served as superintendent, principal or vice principal and has no administrative experience.
She teaches advanced placement government and politics at Capital High. Throughout her career, she has received several honors:
- Idaho Humanities Council’s outstanding teacher of the humanities, 2013.
- Idaho Education Association, Region Two friend of educators award.
- U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, teacher recognition award 2000, U.S. Department of Education.
- Orofino Rotary Club, teacher of year 2001-02.
- Centennial High School, teacher of the year, 2010-11.
Know before you vote
Visit www.idahovotes.gov to double check whether you are registered to vote and where your polling place is.
In case you missed it
Click here to read our profile of Republican state superintendent candidate Jeff Dillon.
Click here to read our profile of Democratic state superintendent candidate Allen Humble.