Idaho’s students and schools need an educator at the helm

As a longtime colleague and strong supporter of Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, I have been following this year’s primary campaign with great interest, and some concern.

The concern comes when I hear her opponents or their supporters say, in all seriousness, that it doesn’t really matter whether the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the person who heads Idaho’s school system, is an educator. I guess they have to say that, because Superintendent Ybarra is the only certified teacher in the race – and the only former principal and district administrator.

She respects the passion, commitment and knowhow of Idaho teachers and school administrators. She’s been there and done that.

I have known Sherri Ybarra since the late 1990s and have a very high regard for her and what she has accomplished for Idaho students. I first met her when I was an undergraduate elementary education student, observing classrooms at East Elementary in Mountain Home, where she taught third grade.  She stood out to me right away because of her kindness, encouragement and the seemingly effortless way she connected with students.

A few years later, I had the privilege of teaching in the same school with her. In my 20-plus years of teaching, Sherri Ybarra is one of the most effective teachers that I have ever worked with.

In her nearly eight years leading the State Department of Education, she has used her experience, understanding and outstanding leadership skills to provide students and educators the support, service and training they need.

I have had the opportunity to attend some of the professional development offered by the State Department of Education. Superintendent Ybarra reaches out to top educational researchers, including Dr. Louisa Moats, arguably the top reading researcher in the nation. This spring, she brought Dr. Moats to Idaho for a K-3 Reading Summit and SMART, a multi-year science-of-reading cohort that’s a huge step in Idaho’s efforts to make sure all Idaho students can read at grade level by the end of third grade.

I remember the last time the State Department of Education was led by a non-teacher, and it had a devastating impact on the morale of teachers, students and school supporters. Then, when Superintendent Ybarra took over in 2015, the culture of the department changed dramatically, and with it the effectiveness of the superintendent’s programs and ideas.

The state superintendent’s office oversees many services vital to schools and students, including federal programs, which Sherri led at the district level. And then there’s Teacher Certification and the Professional Standards Commission.  We need someone at the helm who understands what the job entails.

Superintendent Ybarra constantly travels the state supporting teachers and students, and she’s willing to carve out time in her busy schedule to substitute in classrooms.

Although Idaho education funding has increased under Superintendent Ybarra’s leadership, our state still funds education at a rate lower than any other state in the nation. Despite this lack of funding, Education Week identifies Idaho as improving from 31st to 17th in the nation for academic achievement.

Teachers, students and families throughout Idaho know Sherri Ybarra has our back, and she has what it takes to continue improving student outcomes.

As an Idaho teacher, I would like to personally thank Superintendent Ybarra for the tireless work she does for Idaho’s students – and for understanding and assisting the tireless work of Idaho’s teachers.

Lisa Russell

About Lisa Russell

Lisa Russell is a first-grade teacher at East Elementary School in Mountain Home. She recently received a National Teaching Award from the VFW.

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