Ybarra’s new chief deputy says he’s up for the challenge

The State Department of Education’s new chief deputy is an ally of schools chief Sherri Ybarra who views his new position as a natural next step in his education career.

Next month, Challis Superintendent Peter McPherson will join the State Department of Education as Idaho’s No. 2 school leader, just under Ybarra.

“One of the things that appeals to me and really intrigues me about the position is the chance to have a bigger impact,” McPherson said. “There are 300,000 students in Idaho schools, K-12. That kind of intrigues me and gets me going, gets my juices going and gets me up in the morning to hopefully positively impact those (students).”

On May 17, Ybarra announced she hired McPherson to succeed retiring Chief Deputy Pete Koehler, who was one of Ybarra’s first hires after her victory in the 2014 election.

McPherson, 45, has served as the superintendent of the Challis School District since 2014. Over the last three-plus years, McPherson has also become close with Ybarra. He’s one of 12 school superintendents who serve on Ybarra’s superintendents’ cabinet.

In an interview last week, McPherson said Ybarra reached out to him about becoming her chief deputy and the move makes sense.

“I’ve seen the inner workings of the vision and goals for the state,” McPherson said. “I was able to get a little closer, inside look at what (Ybarra) is trying to do at the state level in Idaho. The familiarity was there already. It wasn’t like we didn’t know each other.”

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McPherson said two of his priorities are becoming an advocate for rural teachers and students and supporting districts as they transition to mastery-based education.

In announcing the hire earlier this month, Ybarra touted McPherson’s experience in rural school districts, while pointing out 72 percent of Idaho’s school districts are rural and serve about 38 percent Idaho’s public school students.

“One of the qualities that makes Superintendent McPherson stand out is his passion for supporting students to achieve and his focus on personalizing education,” Ybarra said in a prepared statement.  “He also brings an innovative mindset born from the necessity of serving children in remote, rural areas as well as a broad educational leadership experience.”

The hire is a major one. McPherson will oversee day-to-day operations at the approximately 130-employee State Department of Education. Along with Deputy Superintendent Tim McMurtrey, McPherson will serve as one of the SDE’s senior leaders. He is likely to become one of the public faces of the department, to testify before the Legislature and help bring Ybarra’s policies and vision to educators and the public at large.

McPherson said helping lead a large operation at the SDE, working on behalf of 300,000 students statewide and building relationships with broad groups of people are among the biggest challenges he anticipates on the job.

“I realize it is a bigger stage,” McPherson said. “You’ve got to have relationships with all sorts of different entities — legislators, the school boards association, the governor’s office, the school administrators association. These are all things that take some time, but they are also things I’m excited about.”

McPherson grew up in Alaska and moved to Idaho with his family as a teenager. Throughout his education career, McPherson has served as a teacher, building principal and superintendent. He is pursuing a doctorate degree from Northwest Nazarene University. He expects to focus his doctoral dissertation on mastery-based education.

McPherson is expected to start June 18, with an annual salary of $125,000. He told the Challis School Board about the career change, and expects his last day with the district to be in mid-June.

Koehler retires June 29.

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