Idaho’s new superintendents make connections and learn state policies

Idaho Association of School Administrators Executive Director Andy Grover asked administrators attending his summer conference with less than five years of experience to stand up. About half of the room took to their feet.

Grover then asked administrators with 10 or more years of experience to stand, with only seven rising to their feet to quiet laughter.

“That gives us an idea of how hard this is,” Grover said.

The IASA hosted its summer leadership conference on Wednesday and Thursday in Downtown Boise, offering administrators the opportunity to learn about some of the biggest education challenges the state is facing.

Masks were not required at the conference and almost none of the nearly 600 attendees were masked. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra was scheduled to speak to administrators on Thursday morning, and attended remotely after testing positive for COVID-19, she said.

The conference was an introductory course for at least 23 new superintendents, who have just one month on the job. Grover said he has reached out personally to all of the state’s new superintendents, and arranged conference workshops on things like Continuous Improvement Plans, bonds and levies, and even had a workshop on “superintendent strategies for survival and success.”

Grover said he’s hopeful the superintendent turnover over the past couple of school years is just an anomaly and Idaho can see more stability among school leadership in the future.

“I hope that the turnover will slow down and we can build the consistency and trust in our communities and districts as we work towards student learning,” he said.

For superintendents new to the state, like Garden Valley’s Randy Thompson, the conference is an opportunity to learn the ropes of Idaho education. Thompson came to Idaho from Georgia, and spent the week learning about Idaho policies.

Randy Thompson

“It’s been great. A bit of a whirlwind,” he said. Thompson is one of eight superintendents coming from out of state.

On Tuesday, the State Department of Education hosted a training for the new superintendents, where Thompson said he learned a lot about the responsibilities of Idaho superintendents. In the IASA conference, Thompson said he was able to learn about the Legislature and school bonds and levies.

But the biggest perk of the conference, Thompson said, was networking. In Boise County, Thompson is a rural drive away from neighboring Horseshoe Bend and Idaho City school districts, making in-face meetings harder.

Thompson said he was thrilled to learn about the Idaho Rural Education Association, which has been established to help rural educators get in contact with the right people when they have questions about their job. He said he was impressed with how willing everyone is to offer help in Idaho education, adding he got a lot of phone numbers this week.

“I’m putting a lot of names to faces, and that’s huge for me,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been welcomed with open arms.”

While he is far from new to being an Idaho administrator, 2021 marks the first time that Randy Lords attended the IASA conference as a superintendent. Lords has taken over as the top administrator in Madison, as longtime superintendent Geoff Thomas accepted an assistant professor position at Idaho State University’s College of Education.

Randy Lords

Lords has been the assistant superintendent since 2015. But just like Thompson, Lords said one of the biggest parts of attending the IASA was the ability to meet more superintendents from around the state. And while Lords said he’s excited to follow in Thomas’ footsteps, he added that getting more insight on the superintendent position while at the IASA conference is giving him more opportunities to make the job his own.

Lords said his biggest takeaway from the conference was the importance of the budget and also crafting strong relationships with district patrons and area legislators, things he said he already knew but was happy to be reaffirmed on.

“It really codified what I knew to be important,” he said.

Nik Streng

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