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News >  Idaho

Schools leader set to retire

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Howard (The Spokesman-Review)
Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – State Superintendent of Schools Marilyn Howard will retire at the end of her second term in office and won’t seek re-election, she announced Monday.

Howard, 66, the only Democrat holding statewide elected office in Idaho, said it’s of paramount importance that her successor be someone with a strong background in education.

“Our schools are not businesses, and they don’t turn out widgets,” said the longtime educator. “Every important educational policy decision should be tested on one question: What will this do in the classroom and for the students?” Only someone with experience in education will know the answer, she said.

Howard will complete her second term in office next year. In the last election, she defeated a Republican challenger, Tom Luna, who promoted himself as a businessman and not an educator, and who had completed only the minimum required college degree by correspondence, just in time for the election.

Luna is running again and has scheduled announcements around the state today and Wednesday.

Howard said, “I can only speak from my own experience – every day in my job I have had to apply my lessons that have come from my 40-plus years of experience.”

Howard holds a doctorate in education and had a long career as a teacher, principal, administrator and early-reading specialist before she was elected superintendent in 1998.

Luna isn’t the only one eyeing the position in 2006. State Rep. Steve Smylie, R-Boise, scheduled a news conference for Wednesday and said he plans to announce his candidacy. Smylie, son of former Idaho Gov. Bob Smylie, is a junior high teacher and a fourth-term state legislator.

Jana Jones, Howard’s chief deputy, has scheduled an set for today. She is a Democrat.

Coeur d’Alene High School Principal Steve Casey announced months ago that he’d run for the post as a Republican, and state Sen. Bert Marley, D-McCammon, who is a teacher, has said he’d run if Howard didn’t.

Asked if she was endorsing anyone to succeed her, Howard said “not today.”

As she announced her retirement, the state superintendent said she’s proud of strides Idaho has made in its public school system, including the early-reading initiative she helped spearhead in her first term. However, she said Idaho teachers remain “notoriously underpaid and overworked,” and a third of the state’s teachers are near retirement. The state needs to upgrade salaries, benefits, working conditions and respect to keep a top-notch teaching corps in the classroom, she said.

She also lamented the focus under the federal No Child Left Behind Act on a single test as a measure of success in the schools. “Long before NCLB was adopted, Idaho was already setting high expectations,” she said. Schools need to offer a “rich curriculum,” Howard said, not just focus on basics. “I believe in time we will come to our senses and look for that balance.”

Mike Friend, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, was among a crowd of about 40 people at Howard’s announcement. “Her leadership will be missed. We wish her the best,” he said. “Her legacy is reading, in our people’s minds. … It’s made a difference.”

Sherri Wood, the newly elected president of the Idaho Education Association, said, “It’s bittersweet. I believe in Marilyn. I think she knows what it’s like to be in the trenches. She’s been in the classroom as well as an administrator, so she understands what has to happen in order to make a school operate. I respect her.”

Howard said she reached retirement age a year ago and said after her term ends she hopes to spend more time with her family, including two grandsons.

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