One of Debbie Critchfield’s goals on the State Board of Education is to help guide the implementation of last year’s K-12 task force recommendations.
Critchfield, a former Cassia County School Board chairwoman who now serves as the district’s public information officer, was appointed by Gov. Butch Otter on July 16 to fill one of two vacancies on the education policysetting body. Dave Hill, a former Idaho National Laboratory deputy director, was appointed the same day.
Both will likely plan a large role in shaping, vetting, adopting and implementing the 20 wide-ranging reform recommendations issued last summer by Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.
“I was excited,” Critchfield said. “As I looked at those recommendations, I said ‘These are worthy endeavors.’”
A San Diego native, Critchfield moved to Oakley 21 years ago when her husband, David, returned to his family farm.
In Cassia County, Critchfield began her education career as a substitute teacher while her children were small. The experience opened her eyes to education policy issues, curriculum decisions and the needs of rural schools.
Teaching also whetted her appetite, and convinced her to run for a spot on the local school board. Critchfield won, and served 10 years on the board — rising to the rank of board chairwoman.
That experience, she said, has prepared her well for the State Board.
“It gave me an understanding, first of all, of all the different moving parts,” she said. “A lot of work goes into education, not just curriculum, not just staffing, but funding, federal laws, state laws and local control.”
In November, once State Board member Ken Edmunds was appointed director of the Idaho Department of Labor, Critchfield’s friends and neighbors in Cassia County offered her conflicting advice. Some people encouraged her to apply, citing her education experience and decade on the local school board. Others cited lingering concerns over Common Core standards and other changes, and told her she would be foolish to seek the position.
“I don’t view it as being a crazy or frightening time,” she said. “I’m really quite excited about it, and for the majority of folks, education is on their radar now.”
As for Hill, he’s looking to use his experience partnering with colleges and universities to help improve Idaho’s go-on rates.
As a deputy director at INL, Hill served on the Center for Advanced Energy Studies steering committee, helping guide the federal-state partnership with Idaho’s research universities. He also served as chairman of Otter’s Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) Council and on the Higher Education Research Council and EPSCor Committee, which has advised the State Board.
“Working in the context of CAES, initially, gave me insight into how higher education works, or didn’t work, as the case may be,” he said. “(It gave me a) much greater insight than I would have had being a casual observer.”
Hill was born in small town near Northamptonshire, England. He earned a Ph.D. from Imperial College London, which specializes in science and engineering and is consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in the world.
Hill came to the U.S. in 1984, and has worked for the Argonne, Oak Ridge and Idaho national laboratories.
Hill and his wife, real estate professional Georgia Meacham, live in Boise. He has three grown children, she has two and together they have five grandchildren.
Hill said his main strategy to his appointment is to do a lot of listening as he learns the nuance of education policy.
“I don’t come with a personal agenda or preconceived solutions saying, ‘I will not do this or do that,’” Hill said. “I think with my skill set, and enough time, I can do that.”
Friends also warned Hill that he would be crazy to take the appointment because of the time commitment and hard work involved.
“My reaction was: ‘That’s great.’”
More about the State Board appointments
- What did Critchfield and Hill say in their applications?
- Why did Otter’s office destroy some State Board applications?
- Video: Kevin Richert and Michelle Edmonds discuss the appointment process.