Critchfield announces run for state superintendent

Debbie Critchfield, former president of the State Board of Education, is joining the race for Idaho’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Critchfield announced her run on Tuesday, in Burley, where she works as the communications officer for the Cassia County School District. She will run as a Republican candidate.

“This last year, the lessons that I’ve learned and we’ve all collectively learned during the pandemic just really highlighted my desire to be involved in a different capacity,” Critchfield said. “We can’t wait for some far off time to get the education system we all want, need and deserve.”

Branden Durst

Critchfield will challenge former state legislator Branden Durst in the Republican primary. He filed his candidacy in January. Current Republican State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra did not address a question from EdNews last week about whether she will run for re-election, saying through spokespeople that she is currently focused on helping students get back on track after the pandemic. Representatives for the state Democratic party say they’re in talks with potential candidates for the Superintendent’s spot, none have declared their intent to run. 

The Republican primary is in May of 2022 followed by the general election in November of 2022 when all seven of Idaho’s statewide offices are up for election, including governor.

Sherri Ybarra

Critchfield was appointed to the State Board of Education in 2014, and served as president from April 2019 until last month, leading the state board’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She served for 10 years as a trustee on the Cassia County school board, and later joined the district’s staff.

Critchfield says she’s considered a run for state superintendent for years. The position would give her more direct day-to-day management and spending control over K-12 education than she had as a member of the state board. Conversations she’s had this past year cemented her decision.

“You talk to parents and they question the effectiveness of their child’s education. You talk to teachers and they’re discouraged about their profession. You talk to administrators around the state and they’re wondering about the state’s direction for education. I talk to industry leaders and they are desperate for students to be prepared. And generally we see that taxpayers are debating their investments in education,” Critchfield said.

“There was a time when all of those groups saw the value,” Critchfield said. “I fundamentally believe it’s time to restore the value of an Idaho education.”

Idaho Superintendents of Public Instruction: Sherri Ybarra (2014-present), Tom Luna (2006-2014), Marilyn Howard (1998-2006).

As Superintendent, Critchfield says she’d work to align the priorities of state agencies and local districts, so educators across the state are working toward the same goals. She would put a stronger emphasis on supporting students’ foundational literacy and math skills, especially as schools work to recoup learning lost during the pandemic. Critchfield also plans to prioritize youth behavioral health, and build on parental involvement demanded by the pandemic to better engage with families.

“Parents had to take a stronger role in the education of their students, and I don’t want to lose that momentum,” Critchfield said. “We’ve got this incredible opportunity to take advantage of what parents have learned, and how their involvement can help generate even more success.”

Critchfield touts her experience at all levels of the school system — as a parent, a district employee, former trustee and state board leader — as a key reason she’d be good for the job.

“To have all those hats…it’s easier for me to draw conclusions and say ‘I’ve talked to such  a wide variety of people from all levels of education, this is what I’m hearing, this is where we need to go,” Critchfield said.

“It’s not going to take me four years to figure out the system. I’ll be ready to lead, day one.”

Critchfield will step down from the State Board in the coming months to pursue her candidacy for schools chief.

Follow EdNews for the latest updates in the 2022 race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Sami Edge

About Sami Edge

Reporter Sami Edge, a University of Oregon graduate, joined Idaho Education News in 2019. She is a 2019 Education Writers Association fellow reporting on Latino student outcomes in Idaho. She also is a 2019 American Press Institute fellow. She can be reached at [email protected].

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