The State Department of Education’s new legislative point person is a Beltway policy wonk who was lured to the Gem State by the outdoors and a chance to help children.
On July 1, Duncan Robb took over as the chief policy advisor for State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra. He left a Washington, D.C., education nonprofit called the Education Delivery Institute to take on the legislative role that was held by former Sen. Tim Corder — who left the department suddenly during the 2016 legislative session.
In his new role, Robb will become a Statehouse regular, one of the public faces of the SDE. He will work with lawmakers, education groups, taxpayers and the public to implement Ybarra’s vision for public education.
“One thing I want to be sure to do as much as I can is to be present, available and transparent to anybody who would benefit from that,” Robb said. “Right now I see a large part of my role as making it easy for people all over the state, especially in the session, to understand what the superintendent’s priorities are and to understand what she and the department are doing to advance those priorities.”
Robb grew up outside of San Francisco, and completed his undergraduate education at the University of Oregon, where he studied political science and international studies.
For two years he taught math to inner-city students in Houston as part of Teach For America. He also earned a master’s degree in public policy from Johns Hopkins University.
Robb combined his experience teaching and his interest in politics by working at Education Delivery Institute.
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At EDI, his responsibilities included working with state departments of education to implement policy.
That’s also how Robb first experienced Idaho.
During the early stages of Ybarra’s term, Robb worked in conjunction with the Council of Chief State School Officers to help facilitate the development of Ybarra’s strategic plan.
The work brought Robb to Idaho for the first time, and something clicked.
“When I would take a visit I’d make jokes and comments about how much I like it here,” Robb said. “I think they knew I would be interested, and they let me know when the position was open.”
While in Washington, D.C., Robb developed a reputation as a quick study in policy and an easy person to work with. Nick Rodriguez, who worked with Robb for about four years, said those qualities gave Robb a lot of exposure to state education leaders.
“It was just clear that he was a guy who was going to rise fast,” said Rodriguez, who was the K-12 director at EDI. “He is an incredibly eager learner, and always willing to climb that hill.”
Since starting July 1, Robb has immersed himself in the education reform recommendations issued by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education as a grounding in education issues. He’s also filled his office with reference books on Idaho law and began meeting state legislators.
Although he has yet to testify before a legislative committee, his experience in teaching and his familiarity with education policy made him the perfect person for the job, department spokesman Jeff Church said.
“Duncan joins the continued efforts of the department to provide support for Idaho’s teachers through collaboration, transparency and an effort to remove barriers that inhibit student achievement,” Church said.
Outside of work, Robb said he is eager to explore Idaho’s trails on his mountain bike and enjoy winter sports skiing or snowboarding at Bogus Basin.
He and his wife, Kim, have embraced Idaho. Just this week they adopted a black Labrador retriever rescue dog named Max.