January 9, 1998 in Nation/World

Schools In Good State, Fox Says Education Address Will Note Successes With Phonics, Back To Basics Approach

By The Spokesman-Review
 

State schools chief Anne Fox arrives in her hometown today with as much anticipation as a kid waiting to show a good report card to her parents.

She’s eager to boast that test scores are up, and tell how she’s satisfactorily delivered phonics.

The former Post Falls superintendent will give her public state of education address tonight at a forum at the Coeur d’Alene Inn. She’s bringing examples of the ABC’s platform that got her elected: accountability, back-to-basics, and curriculum that’s phonics-based.

State test scores show Idaho students are outperforming the national average. Her academic curriculum guides are in the schools, including tips on proper etiquette and patriotism. She’s budgeted $500,000 for a phonics-based reading program.

With these examples in hand, many North Idaho supporters are hoping Fox will announce her official bid to run for re-election.

“She needs to do it soon.” Post Falls tax activist Don Morgan said. “The only criticism I’ve heard of her up here is like the criticism of Phil Batt: We’d all like it faster. We don’t want the alternative.”

But Fox has moved too swiftly on controversial issues for teachers and administrators.

Some teachers resent her plan to mandate 45 minutes of phonics-based reading, especially since many teachers already incorporate phonics into instruction. They’re frustrated that Fox’s expanded standardized testing takes away from precious classroom time. The teachers’ union fought a losing battle against Fox’s federal background checks, of which her department processed 30,000 last year.

A majority of the state’s school superintendents, meanwhile, have expressed no confidence in Fox’s leadership. They felt she usurped local control by mandating curriculum and tying federal sex education funds to abstinence-only based programs in 1996. And despite her best efforts to sway legislators to act, a growing facilities crisis still looms large. Of the 22 bond elections attempted across Idaho in 1997, only eight were successful.

The districts also are frustrated by a loss of institutional knowledge in the department, which suffered another blow with a new round of key staff departures last month. Since Fox took over former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jerry Evans’ position, 29 of 58 key state Department of Education employees - many of them in finance - have left. Fox says it’s because $400,000 in holdback cuts stymied department raises.

“Our people who work in high-level positions can earn far more money working for a school district for 10 months than they can for ours for 12.”

There are few employees left in the department to provide timely financial and business information, superintendents say. Many districts, including Coeur d’Alene, have resorted to doing extensive research for decisions such as purchasing student recordkeeping software, because there’s no state direction.

“They are not there to help us do our job and that’s because Anne Fox doesn’t talk to us and find out what we need,” said Moscow Superintendent Jack Hill. “Each district is making big decisions with lots of dollars when it would be nice to have the legwork done by one entity for all of us.”

Fox has pledged to provide more service next term, starting with 47 districts she says need special attention.

Early in her tenure, department staff was “bogged down,” with rewriting state school rules and regulations mandated by the Legislature, Fox said.

“That took a lot of our important staff away from the service they could do to school districts.”

Fox dismisses reports that supporters in southeastern Idaho are deserting her. It’s only a few, she said, who have shifted their support behind her Republican challenger Rep. Ron Black of Twin Falls.

Longtime supporter Sharon Culbreth of Coeur d’Alene characterized some Fox defectors as “far-right” activists who feel Fox hasn’t pursued their agenda vigorously enough.

“Some of their ideas are real strong,” Culbreth said. “You don’t change the world overnight.”

Coeur d’Alene resident Dick Wandrocke said he supports Fox because she puts children’s welfare over partisanship. Wandrocke served with Fox on the board of directors for Coeur d’Alene’s Children’s Village, a home for abused children.

“I think Anne is tending to kids in the best way she sees possible and I have no qualms with the way she’s running the administration,” Wandrocke said.

Morgan said he’s prefers Fox’s emphasis on “philosophy,” over Black’s focus on “process.”

“He wants to go in and make the internals of the office work better,” Morgan said. “But Anne has a global grasp of what the problems in education are and what the whole spectrum of solutions are. She’s an idea person.”

Her latest ideas for curriculum changes should spark interest. To help address technological demands from industry, Fox said she wants to shift emphasis from English literature to technical writing.

A lot of time is spent studying English literature, Fox said, when students need the more practical application of technical writing for manuals.

“I’m not proposing the core be changed at this time but I think it’s an area we need to look at.”

In math, teachers should emphasize problem solving less and mental math more, Fox said. Mental math is the process of figuring accurate computations in one’s head through drills or memorization of multiplication tables, for example.

It is such efforts to set education policy that has made Fox a “lightening rod,” for criticism from Idaho Board of Education members. The board has tried to wrest control away from her, Fox maintains, in part because it doesn’t like the patron-based agenda she brings to her job.

She points to her ability to withstand criticism as a political attribute.

“I see myself as a very creative person,” Fox said. “I’ve had a clear direction and have withstood the barrages of gunfire and have always bounced back.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story:

1. Fox opponents

Fox is likely to face opposition from all ends of the state in this spring’s primary.

According to the Idaho secretary of state’s office, the following individuals have filed certification to raise money under Idaho’s campaign disclosure law:

GOP Rep. Ron Black of Twin Falls;

Democrat Marilyn Howard, principal at West Park Elementary School in Moscow;

James Harshfield, Dietrich school superintendent;

Richard Adams, a former state representative who currently teaches at Clearwater Valley High School in Kooskia;

Ryan Kerby, superintendent at New Plymouth School District.

2. Fox schedule

State schools superintendent Anne Fox will arrive at the Coeur d’Alene School District administrative center Friday at 2 p.m.

She plans to visit Lakes Middle School for a technology demonstration and Ramsey School for a math presentation. She will travel to Coeur d’Alene High School at 3:30 to hear short presentations from staff members.

In the evening, Fox will deliver her state of education address after a 6 to 7 p.m. social hour and dinner sponsored by the Kootenai County Republican Women.

The Dalton Road Crew will entertain. Call 773-4500 for ticket information.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Fox opponents Fox is likely to face opposition from all ends of the state in this spring’s primary. According to the Idaho secretary of state’s office, the following individuals have filed certification to raise money under Idaho’s campaign disclosure law: GOP Rep. Ron Black of Twin Falls; Democrat Marilyn Howard, principal at West Park Elementary School in Moscow; James Harshfield, Dietrich school superintendent; Richard Adams, a former state representative who currently teaches at Clearwater Valley High School in Kooskia; Ryan Kerby, superintendent at New Plymouth School District.

2. Fox schedule State schools superintendent Anne Fox will arrive at the Coeur d’Alene School District administrative center Friday at 2 p.m. She plans to visit Lakes Middle School for a technology demonstration and Ramsey School for a math presentation. She will travel to Coeur d’Alene High School at 3:30 to hear short presentations from staff members. In the evening, Fox will deliver her state of education address after a 6 to 7 p.m. social hour and dinner sponsored by the Kootenai County Republican Women. The Dalton Road Crew will entertain. Call 773-4500 for ticket information.

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