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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ybarra’s “educator of the year” award claim questioned

Sherri Ybarra. (Betsy Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
BOISE - Sherri Ybarra, Republican candidate for Idaho state schools superintendent, proudly lists among her educational accomplishments “Educator of the Year 2005” and “Educator of the Year 2006.” But she’s never been Idaho’s Teacher of the Year, an honor that’s been bestowed annually since 1959. Nor has she been the Mountain Home School District’s nominee for that state competition. Instead, in 2005 and 2006, Ybarra was among 10 Mountain Home teachers nominated to compete to be the district’s representative in the state Teacher of the Year competition. In 2005, she shared that distinction with two other teachers from West Elementary School, one of whom won the district competition; in 2006, she shared it with one other from her school. The school district’s website lists those honored each year as the district’s “Top Ten Teachers.” Idaho also has Superintendent of the Year and elementary and secondary Principal of the Year awards given out by the state school administrators’ association, but no official Educator of the Year. Ybarra has been clear throughout her campaign, when asked about the honor, that it was a local award for which she was selected by her peers. But she’s never clarified that on her website or campaign materials. Her campaign spokesman, Melinda Nothern, said Monday, “She’s among 10 people that were outstanding educators of the year. They were all bestowed that award.” Nothern said Ybarra received a plaque that said “Outstanding Educator Award” in each of those two years, as did the nine other winners. “I think a lot of people would assume it’s a statewide award, or at least a district-wide award,” said Jim Weatherby, professor emeritus at Boise State University and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. “People read something of more significance into that than just a school designation which she shares with another teacher.” The award question is just the latest raised by Ybarra’s campaign website. The first-time candidate for state office, a former teacher and principal who now is starting her second year as a federal programs director and curriculum director for the Mountain Home School District, earlier apologized for material on her campaign site that had been copied from that of her opponent, Democrat Jana Jones. She also had to remove the name of a former GOP primary election rival whom she had listed as a member of her campaign team, though he hadn’t endorsed either candidate in the race. And this morning, she altered her description of a degree she earned from the University of Idaho in August from an “EdDs in Educational Leadership” to “Ed.S in Educational Leadership.” Ybarra had earlier said she expected to receive her doctorate in education – an Ed.D degree – by August 2014. But she instead received an educational specialist degree, the Ed.S. Ybarra first enrolled in the U of I’s doctoral program in education in the summer semester of 2014, according to university records; the Ed.D requires extensive study, exams and a dissertation. Ybarra’s campaign said in a statement late last week that she continues to work toward her doctorate; she earned her master’s degree in education in 2007. Idaho’s Teacher of the Year wins a $1,000 prize, addresses the Legislature and groups across the state on how to improve the state’s schools, and goes on to the national Teacher of the Year competition; Coeur d’Alene teachers have won the award for the past three years. The current holder of the title is Jamie Esler, a science teacher at Lake City High School. Idaho has never had one of its Teacher of the Year winners win the national competition, but in 2005, its Secondary School Principal of the Year, Randy Jensen of American Falls, won the national award for secondary school principal of the year. Jensen ran for state superintendent of schools this year, but lost to Ybarra in the Republican primary election. He was the former rival whom she incorrectly listed on her website as a campaign team member. While Idaho’s awards for superintendent and principal of the year are handled by the Idaho Association of School Administrators and the national organizations representing superintendents and principals, Idaho’s Teacher of the Year contest is run by the state Department of Education. A committee of state education leaders and lawmakers selects the winner from a group consisting of one nominee from each school district or charter school in Idaho. The winner of the national Teacher of the Year competition is announced by the president of the United States in April each year in Washington, D.C.