Oppenheimer to step down from AEYC and Boise school board

Education mogul Beth Oppenheimer is stepping down from two major roles, as a Boise schools trustee and as executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, for an education policy and research position in Washington, D.C., she announced Wednesday. 

“This decision was not made lightly, however, I firmly believe that this new opportunity aligns with my aspirations and represents a chance for personal and professional growth that I cannot ignore,” she said in a news release, announcing her exit from AEYC after 13 years with the organization. 

Beth Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer’s last day with the nonprofit will be March 8, and she will resign from the Boise School Board at its March 11 meeting. She is not yet sharing the details of her new position — which she called “the opportunity of a lifetime” — but will do so in the coming weeks, said Nicole Criner, a spokesperson for the AEYC. 

In an interview with EdNews, Oppenheimer said that in her new role she’ll be focusing on “reimagining high schools across the country” so students are more prepared for the workforce. That might mean, for example, an emphasis on mastery-based and project-based learning instead of seat time.

Oppenheimer spoke to EdNews just after arriving in Washington, D.C., where she was looking for an apartment. During the phone call, she reflected on her accomplishments as a trustee and nonprofit director.

When she started at AEYC, “you couldn’t really even talk about early childhood. You definitely couldn’t say ‘preschool,'” she said. There wasn’t much support for pre-K programs, as the focus was on K-12. Since then, there’s been a paradigm shift, even though it “took a long time.”

“There are legislators that understand the need for quality child care … even the governor will say child care is important for our workforce,” she said.

Under Oppenheimer’s tenure, AEYC’s accomplishments include:

Representatives from early learning collaboratives tabling during the 2024 Early Learning Day. (Photo Darren Svan/EdNews)

But there have been some bumps in the road, as well. 

Last spring, Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador demanded documents and information from Oppenheimer and the Idaho AEYC, among more than a dozen other nonprofit organizations and school districts, to prove that they did not improperly distribute federal grant funds. At issue was whether the COVID-19 relief monies were inappropriately used for children under age 5. 

“I think this whole case is unfortunate,” Oppenheimer told the Idaho Statesman last April. “At the end of the day, we’re just trying to help some kids and families, and it’s unfortunate there are those in this state who make that difficult.”

The case is ongoing. Most recently, a Labrador-appointed prosecutor said there is probable cause that a former Idaho Department of Health and Welfare employee who oversaw the grant program committed a crime, according to the Idaho Capital Sun. 

“Honestly, the whole thing is such nonsense,” Oppenheimer said Wednesday. “There’s never been anything nefarious happening, and that’s really all I can say about it. It’s mind-boggling that this was even a conversation.”

Then there was the 2021 Legislature’s refusal of a $6 million federal grant to support and expand preschool education efforts in Idaho, a move Oppenheimer called “devastating” at the time.

Even so, Oppenheimer said Idaho has undoubtedly made “tremendous” progress.

“More children are engaged in early learning activities than ever before, and that’s just continuing to grow,” she said.

Oppenheimer has also been a Boise schools trustee since 2016.

“The Boise School District’s commitment to student-centered learning, whether for our earliest learners or those preparing for life after high school, is unparalleled,” Oppenheimer said. “I’ve been so proud to work alongside our administrative team, teachers, students and community members to ensure every voice is heard and all children have the opportunity to succeed.” 

In that time, she has:

  • Played a key role in the expansion of the district’s pre-K program and full-day kindergarten.
  • Been involved in the district’s community relations and communication efforts, including the development of the community schools strategy and the creation of the board’s student advisory committee. 

There have also been roadblocks. Recently, the Boise School District has made headlines for declining enrollment and staff reductions, as well as a spate of student and teacher deaths and efforts to address mental health struggles.

Despite setbacks, Oppenheimer remains optimistic about Idaho’s pre-K and K-12 education system: “We’re on a really good path and we just have to keep that momentum going and block out the noise, ignore the nonsense, and … continue to make progress, because our students deserve it. Our families deserve it. And our educators deserve it.”

More information regarding the appointment process for a new trustee will be available following Oppenheimer’s official resignation, according to Dan Hollar, the spokesperson for the Boise School District. The AEYC board will soon determine next steps in finding a new executive director, Oppenheimer said. 

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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