An upbeat Sherri Ybarra delivered a message of unity and positivity Monday, during a post-legislative session briefing before educators in Boise.
Ybarra, the first-term superintendent of public instruction, is in the middle of a two-week statewide tour designed to bring administrators and educators up to speed with changes approved by the 2016 Legislature.
“This year we need to remain extremely focused and extremely positive and upbeat,” Ybarra said at the beginning of her 30-minute speech. “Most importantly, we need to work together to remain a united front to educate every child to achieve and to ensure our students are college- and career-ready.”
Ybarra and her State Department of Education team tackled school policy changes in chunks, offering short Cliff’s Notes-style summaries on a variety of topics including student achievement, graduation requirements, school finance and political maneuverings.
She cheered the Legislature and her staff for increasing funding for teacher pay and restoring districts’ operations funding to 2009 levels. She praised a new literacy initiative and funding for reading instruction that gives districts the option to launch all-day kindergarten for struggling readers.
And she pledged to redouble her efforts next year to launch a cooperative rural schools center. One of her signature legislative initiatives, the proposal cleared the Idaho House but stalled in the Senate.
“So many times we talk about the negative, but we don’t talk about the great things that are going on,” Ybarra said.
About 130 people attended Monday’s tour stop in Boise, including Reps. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, and Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, Boise district Superintendent Don Coberly, school officials from throughout Western Idaho and Ybarra’s SDE leadership team.
Despite the optimistic tone, Ybarra and her team sounded a few notes of caution. They said lawmakers are likely to push to eliminate operations spending, or ask school officials to provide a detailed accounting of how they spend the money. Ybarra’s team also said school officials should not expect lawmakers to increase education funding by 7.4 percent each year, as they have done over the previous two sessions.
“We’ve seen the money come and we’ve seen the money go, depending on the state of the economy,” community relations officer Chuck Zimmerly said.
Ybarra repeated her calls to eliminate the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test for ninth- through 12th-graders. This change won’t happen in 2016 or 2017, but Ybarra wants to replace the SBAC with a college entrance exam such as the ACT at the high school level.
Citing the Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey, Ybarra said that bullying — particularly cyberbullying — “is alive and well” in Idaho. According to the survey, 26 percent of high school students have been bullied on school property.
Ybarra called for educators, students and parents to band together to resolve the issue, saying existing rules and punishments are “not getting down to where they need to get” to protect students. Ybarra is asking educators to earn a continuing education credit in bullying prevention.
“As a 20-year veteran in education and the mother of a public school student, I know our students cannot learn in an environment where they feel unsafe,” Ybarra said. “Until we address that, it affects (student achievement) as well.”
The tour began April 12 in Twin Falls, and continues Tuesday at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston. The final stop on the tour is Wednesday in Coeur d’Alene.
Further reading: Materials, slide decks and presentations from the State Department of Education tour are available online. Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to presentations.