First debate offers few revelations

Republican Sherri Ybarra said, if elected, she will:

  • Advocate for adequate funding.
  • Address the needs of the whole child.
  • Tap the brakes on testing.

Democrat Jana Jones said, if elected, she will:

  • Put politics and partisanship aside.
  • Restore investment in public schools.
  • Support higher expectations that are clear.

The two candidates for state superintendent of public instruction squared off in their first debate of the fall election season on Tuesday night at Canyon Ridge High in Twin Falls. Two more debates occur this week.

Most of Tuesday’s answers were rehearsed, predictable and often similar. (Click here to watch the entire debate).

They bantered on one glaring difference, brought up or defended on several occasions — their recent resumes.

Ybarra has spent the bulk of her career working as a teacher and principal in Idaho schools and just last year moved to the district office in the Mountain Home School District. Meanwhile, Jones left public education seven years ago to work as a national education consultant.

Ybarra said they have “stark differences” because “I have been on the front lines and on the arena floor earning the respect of my teammates. I have not taken a break from education over the last 10 years.”

Jones played off her most recent professional stint as a plus for Idaho. “I am far from out of touch. Being an education consultant has given me the chance to see what works well around the country and what doesn’t. I have seen what’s on the cutting edge and can bring it to Idaho.”

The only other obvious difference Tuesday came when the candidates were asked to prioritize the 20 recommendations issued by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

Ybarra said her top priorities were reading proficiency, professional development on the Idaho Core Standards and accountability systems. “These are the easiest to implement and get down to the classrooms.”

Jones said her No. 1 priority is to restore the investment in the public schools system. “Over this last year we’ve lost so many good teachers. We need to take a good look at what we can do to recruit and retain high quality teachers.”

The rest of the debate was amicable.

Both agreed that Idaho is looking for a strong educational leader.

Both were concerned about the growing trend toward four-day school weeks. More than 40 Idaho districts use the four-day schedule not because it is effective, but because they hope to save money.

They both said Idaho parents should have choices and education should be individualized.

They both favor higher standards in the form of Idaho Core Standards but said rollouts and testing need to be critically reviewed.

“We need to slow down and do it right,” Jones said.

Said Ybarra: “We need to slow down and make sure we offer positive working environments.”

Both candidates want safe schools but would oppose arming teachers.

Jones said she owns guns and hunts but guns are not necessary in schools. Ybarra said: “If they (kids) know that weapons are in school they’re liable not to feel safe.”

Both agreed that teaching early childhood literacy is critical but would not mandate preschool and would first restore funding to K-12 before launching preschool programs.

“When we mandate, it doesn’t work, but we should provide the opportunity,” Ybarra said.

“Preschool is near and dear to my heart but I know that our focus needs to be K-12,” Jones said.

Ybarra answered criticisms that have surrounded her campaign, including accusations of plagiarism and little to no political exposure.

“Idaho is not looking for the perfect campaign but someone like myself who has worked in all levels of education,” she said. “Idaho is looking for an education leader not a politician.”

Jones was asked if being a Democrat in a Republican-run state would make her ineffective.

“Students don’t come to school with Ds and Rs on their foreheads,” Jones said. “We use politics to be elected, but once there, you need to put politics aside.”

The candidates next debate on Thursday in Caldwell and Friday afternoon in Boise. Return to for complete coverage of both events.

Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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