State Board reaches out to disgruntled education groups

The vice president of the State Board of Education has scheduled a meeting to review and critique Idaho’s plan to comply with a federal education law in response to complaints from prominent education groups that say they were excluded from the process.

The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at the State Board’s Boise office, with a possible follow-up meeting a few weeks down the road.

Last week, leaders of the Idaho Education Association and Idaho School Boards Association sent a letter to Gov. Butch Otter and members of the State Board of Education saying they felt “disrespected” after being excluded from developing the state’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act. Last week’s letter echoed many of the concerns that ISBA Executive Director Karen Echeverria outlined late in 2016 in an interview with Idaho Education News and through another letter.

State Board member Debbie Critchfield

The dustup resurfaced as Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and the State Department of Education face a Sept. 18 deadline to submit the plan to the feds.

Monday’s meeting is a direct response to those concerns, said State Board Vice President Debbie Critchfield said. She worked with chief planning and policy officer Tracie Bent to invite members of the IEA, the ISBA and seven other groups to participate in the Monday meeting.

Critchfield hasn’t yet received responses from all the different groups, but she is planning for a meeting where educators, administrators, trustees, community leaders and policy makers dissect the 76-page plan, provide feedback and make suggestions on whether anything is missing or improperly included.

The plan is important because it spells out how Idaho will spend $83 million in federal funding, and it must include a system for holding schools accountable, identifying the lowest-performing public schools and developing strategies to turn those schools around.

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States are required to comply with ESSA during the upcoming 2017-18 school year, or risk losing federal funding for students with disadvantages or special needs.

“The word transparent seems so overused and cliché, but I can’t think of a better word for it than that,” Critchfield said. “We really need to have a team approach to the right strategy with the plan if we want to impact student achievement.”

Penni Cyr

Leaders of the IEA and ISBA confirmed with Idaho Education News they received Critchfield’s invitation and plan to participate in Monday’s meeting.

“It’s my understanding that will be a page-by-page review of the ESSA plan that has been put together,” outgoing IEA president Penni Cyr said. “We are very pleased Debbie Critchfield and the State Board reached out to make sure all stakeholders have an opportunity to provide intensive feedback to the plan that has been written.”

Cyr also praised Ybarra’s SDE for recently scheduling a series of online webinars devoted to the plan, and for sending chief policy officer Duncan Robb over to the IEA office to help keep them in the loop.

However, Cyr stressed education and community groups’ voices should have been sought out and included throughout the process, which played out all of last year and throughout the first half of 2017.

Echeverria said the upcoming meeting is a positive step toward addressing concerns from educators and school board members who felt disrespected and excluded.

“I’m thrilled, we’re really excited about it,” Echeverria said.

Karen Echeverria

Timing is definitely factor, with the feds’ Sept. 18 deadline looming and the State Board scheduled to consider the plan during its August meeting.

At least 17 other states turned their plans in to the feds earlier this year, but Ybarra and the State Department of Education are opting to submit Idaho’s plan at the second and final deadline in September.

Earlier this week, Ybarra and the SDE released the sixth and latest draft of Idaho’s ESSA compliance plan. Critchfield said the latest draft is what education groups will focus on Monday.

“This is an opportunity to design a plan and strategy around what we think works here in Idaho,” Critchfield said. “The best way to do that is get a lot of folks together who live this every day.”

Further reading: Click here to read the current draft of Idaho’s ESSA compliance plan.