Former state superintendent Marilyn Howard dies

Marilyn Howard — a career educator who served eight years as state schools superintendent — died Monday.

Marilyn Howard

Howard, 81, died in her Eagle home after an extended illness.

The Mackay native was the last Democrat to hold statewide office in Idaho. She rose to political prominence in 1998, ousting Republican incumbent Anne Fox in the November general election. She defeated Republican Tom Luna in 2002. She did not seek re-election in 2006.

Howard’s time in office corresponded with the state’s initial efforts to boost early literacy. During her first term, the state adopted the initial version of the Idaho Reading Indicator, a diagnostic screening test for kindergarten through third-grade students. An expert in literacy, Howard also instituted the “Dinner and a Book,” campaign, encouraging parents to read with their children for 20 minutes daily and discuss books during mealtime.

Howard also spearheaded the state’s implementation plan for the federal No Child Left Behind education law, passed in 2001.

After attending public schools and working on the family farm, Howard earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Idaho and her doctorate in education from Brigham Young University. She also completed postgraduate work at Idaho State University.

After completing her undergraduate work, Howard began her teaching career in 1960 at Lewiston, where she taught junior high history and language arts. After working in elementary and secondary schools in Idaho and Washington, she was hired in 1988 as principal at Moscow’s West Park Elementary School. In 1992, she also was named supervisor of the Moscow district’s developmental preschool.

“We are saddened to hear of the passing of former state superintendent Marilyn Howard, the most recent of our powerhouse Democrats to serve in a statewide office, and extend condolences to her loved ones,” the Idaho Democratic Party said in a statement late Monday afternoon. “Her impact on Idaho education was critical and formative, and we can only hope to extend her legacy as we continue to fight for quality education for all Idaho children.”

“Marilyn Howard is remembered for her passionate commitment to Idaho’s schoolchildren and families,” current state superintendent Sherri Ybarra said Monday. “Like me, she came to the superintendent’s job as a former classroom teacher and school administrator, and I have always admired her dedication to reading and literacy. My heart goes out to her family.”

“Dr. Howard was passionate about Idaho students, and she was a strong reading advocate,” Gov. Brad Little said. “As a Land Board member, Dr. Howard recognized the earning potential of state endowment lands to fund education. She will be greatly missed but long remembered for her passion for education and her service to the people of Idaho.”

“She was a gracious woman and always worked very hard for the students of Idaho,” Idaho School Boards Association executive director Karen Echeverria said. “She was strong-minded and strong-willed and never gave up. I was honored to have known her.”

Information on services will be released at a later date.


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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