Superintendent candidates share their education reform ideas

BOISE — Candidates on both sides of the ticket vying to be the next state superintendent of public instruction agree that Idaho should put more money in pre-kindergarten programs.

“(Lawmakers) would have to be brain-dead not to invest in it,” said Democratic candidate Allen Humble, before tearing up on the subject. “What are they afraid of?”

Pre-K was one of several topics addressed by Humble, Democratic candidate Cindy Wilson and GOP candidate Jeff Dillon during an at times emotional question-and-answer forum Tuesday at Boise State University. Topics ranged from school funding, safety, accountability and struggling readers.

While candidates offered similar plans on a number of issues, their views differed in other key areas.

Wilson, a 33-year teacher, spoke out against punitive measures for the state’s low-performing schools. Instead of punishments, she said, struggling schools should “partner” with high-performing schools through mentorship programs.

“Throwing (low-performing schools) out is not the answer,” Wilson said, adding that the state should also continue to boost its salaries for beginning teachers.

Dillon, the superintendent of the Wilder School District, said schools hoping to “move bad teachers out” often can’t because of the state’s lingering teacher shortage. As a result, bad teachers simply bounce from district to district. To improve school quality and accountability, Dillon concluded, Idaho must first address its teacher shortage.

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Dillon also emphasized more “local control” in both school safety and funding.

“We need to listen to excellent educators,” Dillon said, but the state should not always employ “direct top-down approaches with equal funding” because districts’ needs vary.

While Wilson and Dillon both touted their decades of experience in public education, Humble, a retiree who worked in hospital management, noted his lack of understanding of some educational issues. When asked about improving the state’s career-technical programs, Humble said, “I don’t know much about this — in fact, next to nothing.”

Humble, whose emotions drove him to tears at least three times during the forum, also appeared to click his tongue into his microphone both during and after certain statements.

Humble echoed Wilson’s stance on more overall school spending, and also said more funding to build better schools would help reduce threats of violence.

Panel members Clark Corbin of Idaho Ed News, Loren Bailly of the Boise School District, and Eagle High School Senior Zac Crandall drafted and presented their questions to the candidates during the forum, which was hosted by Idaho Ed News, the Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies at Boise State University and Boise State Public Radio.

Ed News reporter and blogger Kevin Richert moderated the event.

Visit Ed News’ Facebook page to view the entire forum.

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