Critchfield names two top aides

State superintendent-elect Debbie Critchfield is wasting no time starting to fill out her inner circle.

Critchfield Thursday announced two top hires. Former gubernatorial aide Greg Wilson will serve as her chief of staff, and Idaho school administrator Ryan Cantrell will serve as deputy state superintendent.

Critchfield made the announcement from Coeur d’Alene. She traveled North from Boise just hours after winning her election to attend the annual Idaho School Boards Association convention.

“These are my people” said the former school board member.

Wilson also was in Coeur d’Alene meeting and greeting with some of the 500 trustees, superintendents and administrators in attendance.

Critchfield’s first two hires have state government experience — and a background in two of the state’s largest school districts and one of Idaho’s most rural districts.

“I am excited and honored that Greg and Ryan have agreed to serve Idaho’s students and schools at the State Department of Education,” Critchfield said in a news release Thursday. “Their proven track records of success, experience with K-12 policy, and relationships with key educational leaders across Idaho will help ensure that we are pointed towards our goals and we will be able to lead out on day one as state superintendent.”

Greg Wilson

The news came two days after voters elected Critchfield, in one of Election Night’s biggest landslides. The Republican Critchfield secured nearly 70% of the vote, swamping Democrat Terry Gilbert in an open race for superintendent of public instruction.

In January, Critchfield will succeed two-term state superintendent Sherri Ybarra, who finished third in May’s GOP primary. As superintendent, Critchfield will head up the State Department of Education, one of the state’s largest agencies, with more than 120 full-time positions.

With Thursday’s appointments, the top of Critchfield’s SDE organizational chart came into focus.

Wilson has close to a decade’s experience in state government. He served as Gov. Brad Little’s education adviser during the bulk of the governor’s first term — working on education initiatives such as the teacher salary career ladder, and the Strong Families, Strong Students program, which provided education grants for families during the pandemic.

Wilson left Little’s staff in January to work for SAS Institute Inc., a North Carolina-based research firm. Shortly before Wilson’s departure, SAS received a $3.5 million no-bid contract through the state for a K-12 student data management project.

Wilson left SAS in April, taking a job as chief communications officer for the West Ada School District, Idaho’s largest district.

Ryan Cantrell

Cantrell is director of district programs for the Idaho Digital Learning Alliance, a statewide online school. Before that, Cantrell worked in the Bruneau-Grand View School District from 2014 to 2021 as an elementary school principal, special education director and ultimately as district superintendent. He began his career as a special education teacher in Nampa, and he has worked in public and charter schools.

Critchfield, Wilson and Cantrell all served on Little’s K-12 education task force in 2019.

Wilson and Cantrell will head up transition efforts for Critchfield until January. Critchfield will appoint a transition committee in the next few days.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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