State superintendent candidates take questions on education

Republican candidates for Idaho’s head of public education are mixed about claims of indoctrination in K-12 schools, but each will work with local school boards if elected, they told a group of proxies on Monday.

Gray Ibar’s head of state, former State Council President Debbie Critzfield and former MP Branden Durst answered questions during a forum hosted by the Idaho Association of School Councils and moderated by Idaho EdNews Managing Editor Jennifer Swindel at the Grove Hotel in Boise.

The forum became part of the annual ISBA Day on the Hill Statehouse lobbying event. It was the first time Republican candidates had gathered for questions ahead of the May 17 Republican primaries. Approximately 75 trustees and other local leaders attended the event.

On Monday morning, Ibara announced her plan to run for a third term. Durst filed in January 2021, and Critchfield announced the launch in May.

Some highlights from Monday’s topics, which ranged from college rates to CRT concerns:

CRT and statements about indoctrination in schools

Ibara said Idaho is not a “terrible example” of teaching CRT in schools, and that the term “means a lot of things to a lot of different people”. Teachers are afraid, she added, but “I will be a leader who will and will continue to investigate allegations.” She said that as head of state, the concerns brought to her are not CRT. But Ibara likened the concern to bullying – “it happens,” she said, though she also questioned anyone’s ability to indoctrinate Idaho teens: “They’re not so easy to convince.”

Critchfield offered a brief response to CRT concerns: “Parents are concerned, schools say this is not happening and politicians do not know what to do.” But, she added, Idaho residents do not want the official to “change the message” on the issue in different circumstances.

Durst said it doesn’t happen in every district or school, but it happens in “pockets, usually in our large districts”. Leaders should be honest with parents, he added, rather than “interceding” for their concerns. “(Parents) know what they know, so we have to solve problems in a way that suits them.

Local control for school boards

Ibara called herself a “steadfast supporter of local control” and advertised that the few years that concerned her office “returned immediately” to local leaders, including superintendents, if they could solve it. She may not always agree with the approach they take, but it is up to them.

Critchfield also advertised its approach to communicating key decisions to local councils, including during a pandemic. She “advocated for leaving the decisions to the trustees” when the State Council ordered the closure of schools for four weeks in March 2020.

Durst told attendees that local control is “important,” but parents need to be given more to say about things like masks. He will “stand and fight for the parents” whom “we need to trust again”.

Idaho College to continue push

Ibara said not all kids want to go to college, and Idaho needs more options to help them make decisions. COVID also influenced the choice of students after graduation. “Our job is to create a framework to help children decide on the career they want to choose,” she said, adding that she had heard from Idaho residents that in recent years the state had paid too much attention to training to college.

Critchfield advertised the efforts of students to reap the benefits of increasing double credit offers, but said there was a need to explore ways to “rethink junior and senior classes to help children work on things outside of a formal educational institution”.

Durst said some children were “others” and it was “wrong of the state to set a goal in the first place.” He suggested trusting children to decide what to pursue after high school, and that academic, standard and CTE (career-technical) “tracks” could be a starting point for highlighting different options. There are “many barriers that prevent children from going where they want,” he added.

State Council and State Department of Education

Editor’s note: last year, lawmakers voted to transfer IT and data management functions from SDE Ybarra and under the auspices of the State Board of Education. The move deprived SDE of 18 full-time positions – about one-seventh of Ibara’s staff – and cut $ 2.7 million from its office budget. Read more here.

Ibara said there was a “good working relationship” between her department and the State Council, but “the understanding of getting along doesn’t always work.” She stressed three “separate, equal branches of government ”and no splits between the SDE and the Council of State in recent years, although there have been“ temporary splits ”. “From time to time you have to throw your elbow to do everything,” she added.

Critchfield said “healthy disagreements are good” but it could be an unhealthy use of our time. She also claimed that lawmakers shifted responsibilities from the SDE because “they did not have confidence in the SDE”. She added: we will have disagreements, but there must be honest relations with people.

Durst called these problems a “distraction” and said people should “stop worrying” about what bureaucrats think. “What we really see is a huge number of parents who feel that no one is listening to them,” he added.

Career and technical education

Ibara said counties and statutes should recruit CTE faculty and think outside the box in communities where it can be difficult. She pointed out what she considers a successful effort in the school district of St. Maries.

Critchfield acknowledged problems with CTE staffing, but said problems with institutions are also a problem for the state’s rural school. Outside the Valley of Treasures, she added, it is “almost impossible” to access tools and recruit people to oversee programs. “The kids still want it,” she said, “but they may not have access to it.”

Durst argued that CTE could be more accessible in small communities if districts were allowed to work together to provide it. He pointed to the small and rural areas of Payet and Weiser, which could “share staff and resources to do things.” The current K-12 funding model also allows large areas to “poach” personnel from smaller ones to support CTE programs, Durst said.

Parents and guardians fighting the pandemic

Ibara, a trustee of the School for the Deaf and Blind in Gooding, Idaho, said boards and parents should be prepared to “return to the drawing board”, meet on weekends, during lunch breaks and hold emergency board meetings to withstand pandemic disruptions. “Get ahead of it, have an open conversation,” she added. Parents also need to be involved in the decision-making process.

Critchfield reiterated the need for parental communication: “Three-minute testimony for parents does not confirm,” she said. Communication is key and parents need to feel they have the right to speak out.

Durst reiterated the need for parental decision making. “If they want masks, they have to do it. If not, they should do it. “

About Devin Bodkin

EdNews Assistant Editor and Reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in storytelling about charter schools and teaching students living in poverty. He lives and works in Eastern Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. You can contact him by email at [email protected].

Read more Devin Bodkin stories »

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