Superintendent-elect Sherri Ybarra said her silence during the five weeks since her Election Day win has been deliberate.
Ybarra has kept a low profile since the election – declining numerous interview requests and generally avoiding public appearances.
She broke her silence during a lengthy interview with Idaho Education News on Wednesday morning.
“I did so much talking during the campaign that now it’s time for me to listen to what the concerns are for moving forward,” Ybarra said.
Since being elected, Ybarra has picked former Nampa interim superintendent Pete Koehler to serve as her interim chief deputy and assembled a team of lawmakers and school officials to guide her transition to office.
She’s also devoted time during her “silent tour,” as she calls it, to meeting with lawmakers and education stakeholders. She attended the Legislature’s organizational session last week, the Idaho Program Resource Advisory Council meeting this week, land board meetings and private confabs with groups such as the Idaho Education Association.
She plans to attend a regional superintendents’ meeting next week.
Her and soon-to-be special assistant to the superintendent Tim Corder were both given offices in the State Department of Education’s headquarters, where Ybarra has accepted outgoing Superintendent Tom Luna’s offer to work with him on her transition.
Even though she is working with Luna, Ybarra signaled changes will be forthcoming.
“My administration will look completely different,” Ybarra said. “The opportunity to prepare in advance – any good leader would take advantage of that, but my administration will be very different and my vision is very different.”
Ybarra continues to work as a federal programs director in the Mountain Home School District, but said she has been using vacation time to allow her to focus on gearing up for the new job. Ybarra has previously said she took a leave of absence from the district during the campaign.
“It’s been more time up here (in Boise) and less time transitioning out of Mountain Home,” Ybarra said. “I’m getting to know folks right now, and we’re in a relationship building phase.”
Ybarra declined to reveal specific policy and budgetary goals for the upcoming legislative session, saying “it just wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on any of that stuff just yet.”
However, Ybarra emphasized that she has been doing her homework, and will be prepared to present a K-12 public schools budget proposal to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Jan. 28.
“Right now, I am still studying that, working with the governor’s office and JFAC,” she said. “I will be ready for my presentation on the 28th.”
After she is sworn in, Ybarra will continue to live in Mountain Home and will make the approximately 45-mile commute to work in Boise. She described that choice as a family decision and said she would catch a ride with her husband, a federal police officer working with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Boise, in the event of inclement weather or icy roads.
Although she has not revealed more specific staffing decisions, Ybarra said she will surround herself with colleagues who “believe in choices for kids and advanced opportunities.”
She also repeated one of her promises from the campaign stump speech.
“My vision for the State Department of Education is we are going to be a service organization going forward,” she said.
Ybarra will be sworn in Jan. 5 during private ceremonies. The 2015 legislative session kicks off Jan. 12.