Coeur d’Alene forum draws supportive crowd

Most of the 24 people who spoke Tuesday night thanked the governor’s education task force for seeking public input.

And the audience of about 130 applauded every person who stood at the podium, no matter how diverse their opinions.

People were engaged, encouraging, polite and positive during a listening session in Coeur d’Alene hosted by the task force, a group assigned to make recommendations for improving the quality of education in Idaho. The task force’s 31 members, who have met four times, agreed to host seven public listening sessions around the state to hear from Idahoans. Coeur d’Alene was the fourth.

“Thank you for this search for improvement,” said Butch Lieggi, a teacher in the Coeur d’Alene School District. “Through this task force, I hope we get some positive changes.”

photo-2The task force held a forum on Monday in Lewiston, but with far less participation and engagement. The task force heads to Eastern Idaho and Boise next week.

“Thank you to the task force members for all the long hours you have put in, I know you are very dedicated to the children of Idaho,” said teacher Kristi Milan. “I’d like to see you stop the tests or delete most of them.”

Of the 24 who spoke, 17 said they were educators. More people wanted to speak but the forum had reached two hours and the audience was dwindling.

Lots of ideas were shared, including support for early childhood education, music and arts and investing in technology.

“Include arts in the conversation,” said Post Falls band teacher Matt Barkley. “Music, art and P.E. teach kids how to work with each other. “

Chris Inlow, a second-grade teacher, said her biggest concern is that school isn’t mandatory in Idaho until age 7. That’s way too late, she said: “We are starting a deficit in literary skills in the very beginning.”

Elementary music teacher Lindsay Hutson asked for classroom supply money, a pay increase, better early childhood education opportunities, smaller class sizes, more professional development and improved technical support. “Hire more technology specialists,” she requested.

But a handful of non-educators who spoke questioned if more money equals better results.

Steve Skeenock said he’s confused by teacher pay data; he’s heard it’s ranked low nationally but he has also heard some teachers make as much as $150,000.  “I don’t make that kind of money,” he said. “I’m not going to pay someone $150,000 if they aren’t doing their job.”

Peter Ward said: “I’m a taxpayer and concerned where my invested money goes.”

Anne Nesse said she would like to see the state fund transportation to all kinds of choice schools for children and “model it after Iceland and Finland.”

Cindy Omlin, executive director of the Northwest Professional Educators in Spokane, Wash., said she supports measures that increase teacher effectiveness.

“Let’s nurture cooperation and mutual respect,” she said. “All voices should be heard, not just the union.”

Two St. Maries School District board members spoke — Margie Gannon and Sandy Kennelly. Gannon said: “I want to believe that this task force is trying to do something different in Idaho. This gives me hope so that people keep believing in us.”

The spark of the night for the audience was Shannon Rider, an elementary teacher from the Lakeland School District who displayed an energetic zest for teaching. She told everyone she’s “very excited” about Common Core and Discovery Education, a technology program.

The seven task force members who attended were:

  • Sen. John Goedde (chairman of the Senate Education Committee).
  • Wayne Freedman (Idaho School Boards Association president).
  • Alan Millar (Idaho Charter School Network).
  • Katie Pemberton (Coeur d’Alene School District teacher).
  • Brian Smith (Idaho Education Association).
  • Richard Westerberg (State Board of Education).
  • Mary Ann Ranells (Idaho Association of School Administrators).

If you would like to send your comments to the task force, click here.