This questionnaire was posed to candidates for superintendent of public instruction. Idaho Education News readers suggested these questions during a campaign forum in April and we submitted them to Cindy Wilson, D-Meridian and Sherri Ybarra, R-Mountain Home. The responses are in the candidates’ own words, and have not been edited.
What is your top priority in running for office?
We must provide every Idaho child with the best education possible.
I am proud of our accomplishments in the past three years plus, to build a positive culture for education in Idaho. But we’re excited to continue this work, building on the momentum and continuing efforts to end the Idaho educator shortage, boost student achievement and graduation rates, improve teacher pay and increase safety for our students.
What is the goal of education in Idaho?
The goal of our public schools is to fulfill the state’s constitutional mandate, which stipulates that the legislature shall “establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” (Article IX, Section 1)
Our mission since I took office has and still is, “Supporting Schools and Students to Achieve” and it is based on our three main goals, based on stakeholder feedback, which include:
- All Idaho students persevere in life and are ready for college and careers.
- All education stakeholders in Idaho are mutually responsible for accountability and student progress.
- Idaho attracts and retains great teachers and education leaders
How would you lead and organize the State Department of Education so it would serve school districts effectively?
My leadership style begins and ends with listening. By staying in tune with the people on the ground—whether teachers, administrators, parents, or students—we can use a collaborative approach to solving educational challenges. The organization of the Department should facilitate the robust communication needed for this approach.
By continuing to do what I have done this term: Actively seeking dialogue with local educators, establish a vision for school and student success and build a team of experts to work toward that vision in concert with local districts and charter schools. My department is organized to distribute funds, administer assessments, license educators and provide accountability data, research, and expertise to deliver the highest level of client satisfaction.
What is your plan to ensure safety in our schools, and where do you stand on arming teachers?
Arming teachers is a distraction from the isolation, anxiety, and depression that kids are experiencing at terrible rates, and which sometimes manifest as violence. These students must be pulled into important relationships early—with counselors, teachers, administrators, police and parents—to address mental and emotional health. In addition to smart building design and strong partnerships, we must teach coping skills and coach kids into lives of meaning and respect.
I am a firm supporter of our 2nd Amendment rights, and there is already legislation in place that permits teachers to be armed, with local board approval; however, as a teacher myself, I understand that most educators are not comfortable with being armed; therefore my team and I already started work on the KISS initiative (Keep Idaho Students Safe) which is a three-prong approach to safety. The first prong is a three-credit course for educators for preventative training. The next prong is a grant opportunity for a “trained safety presence” in all districts in Idaho, and last prong is a state-wide communications counselor, who can provide support and training to districts.
Where do you stand on school choice, such as charter schools, private schools, virtual schools or home schools?
Parents need choice. And we can create more choice within public schools. From the beginning, charter schools were meant to practice innovative instructional techniques that might become incorporated into regular schools. There is also a place for home schooling, which should always remain a choice for parents as long as there exists accountability for assessing student growth.
I enjoy a good working relationship with charter schools, and have a school choice division in my department. Additionally, as a parent myself, I support a parent’s right to choose, whatever that looks like (charter schools, private schools, virtual schools, home schooling); however, I cannot support anything that takes dollars away from public schools—I just can’t see how vouchers can work in rural Idaho. Further, I did not support HB590, which aimed to create a private school scholarship.
What is your position on state funded pre-kindergarten in Idaho? Do you support giving all public school students access to pre-K?
Public pre-K saves the state money in the long-run and is critical to long-term student success. Studies show that pre-k students are half as likely to be arrested, more likely to get a job, tend to make more money, can pay better attention in class, and are less likely to get sick. Many Idaho families need this option.
Research is clear: every dollar we invest in early learning is an 18 dollar return on investment. The measures we are taking this year with our State Board on a project for early learning –Smarty Ants–that is free for the state of Idaho to get a jump-start on early learning into our state, as well as our new reading test—will help fill the need –it is not the answer to early-learning– but it’s a start.
What are your going to do for at-risk and special education students?
Catching developmental, behavioral, and other difficulties early is the key to effective intervention. Early detection depends in part on public pre-k programs that can leverage the insights of experts who know red flags when they seem them. To do this, we need small class sizes and adequate staffing in every one of Idaho’s public schools.
I am committed to equity for students. I’ve demonstrated that by aligning SDE divisions to assist districts in supporting increased learning and closing the gap for at-risk learners. Some of the strategies include:
- Adopted standards and assessments for special education and English language learners
- Increased state funding for English learner supports
- Aligned state, federal funding to support effective strategies
- Commissioned a research to identify experience of teachers working with these students
How should teacher and school administrator quality be assessed? Then how should those individuals be compensated based on their quality?
The first step is hiring and retaining the best teachers Idaho can afford. (We are losing too many teachers to other states!) Developing teachers should enjoy mentorship, coaching, and specialized professional development. Like most people, teachers thrive when they are encouraged and empowered with guidance, tools, and a meaningful work environment.
Quality is assessed using multiple measures over time. I support Idaho’s evaluation system that includes review of effective practices and achievement targets set by local educators based on the needs of their students. I have successfully advocated for increased funding for increasing educator pay and to support our goal to recruit and retain quality educators.
What is your plan to increase literacy and help struggling young readers who have fallen short of grade level benchmarks?
We know that the greatest factor in student achievement is effective teaching. With teachers who are well-trained in instructional methods–and whose class sizes remain reasonable–we can catch learning problems early and intervene effectively. This early detection and intervention is also served by early childhood learning programs.
I am grateful for my relationship with the legislature and the investment to improve literacy for all students in Idaho. I have already successfully secured funding for a new IRI (Idaho Reading Indicator) which gives teachers more detail on how to address learning difficulties in our youngest readers, as well as secured funds for expanding services to those students who qualify for extra reading interventions. Now we need to come together to expand our summer reading programs to address the summer reading loss, as well as training for every teacher in K-3, through opportunities such as reading summits, professional development and expanding on our reading coaches.
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