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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ybarra’s education awards questioned


BOISE – Just one week from the election, revelations continue to emerge about a little-known educator who was the surprise winner of Idaho’s Republican primary for state schools superintendent, this time focusing on her claim to be a two-time “Educator of the Year.”

Sherri Ybarra lists among her educational accomplishments “Educator of the Year 2005” and “Educator of the Year 2006.” But Idaho doesn’t have an Educator of the Year, nor has she been named Teacher of the Year, an honor that’s been bestowed annually in the state since 1959. She wasn’t even 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 represent the district in the Teacher of the Year contest. The school district’s website lists those honored each year as the district’s “Top Ten Teachers.”

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.

Nevertheless, said Jim Weatherby, professor emeritus at Boise State University and a longtime observer of Idaho politics, “I think a lot of people would assume it’s a statewide award, or at least a districtwide award” rather than a school designation shared with other teachers.

Questions about the awards are the latest regarding claims posted on 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 on Monday 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” – the difference between a doctorate in education and a lesser educational specialist degree.

Ybarra’s campaign said in a statement late last week that she continues to work toward her doctorate.

The gaffes have extended beyond the campaign website. Ybarra acknowledged misstating her personal history, neglecting to mention a previous marriage and instead suggesting her current husband’s military career brought her to the state in 1996. She skipped a question-and-answer session with hundreds of school administrators from around the state, citing a schedule conflict, then was spotted nearby having coffee with a GOP legislator. And she admitted never voting in a general election since she moved to the state in 1996; she said in two televised debates that she’s running for state superintendent in part to “repay” Idaho for that lapse in civic participation.

“It speaks to the fact that she’s not an accomplished politician,” Weatherby said. “She never promised a perfect campaign, and indeed, she has not delivered one.”

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.