Randy Dorn is stepping down as state superintendent of public instruction, and the Washington Legislature is heading for a crucial showdown on funding basic education.
It’s important that voters choose a new schools chief who will direct energy and resources where the need is greatest. We interviewed three candidates, all Democrats and all impressive, but we believe Erin Jones has the background and vision to address significant challenges.
Washington has lagged other states in closing the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and the rest, and it needs fresh leadership to help solve this thorny issue. Jones is an African-American educator raised by white American educators in The Netherlands. She speaks four languages and has worked extensively among diverse student populations, including at Rogers High School in Spokane as a literacy coach where she won a national Milken Educator Award. Her work at Tacoma and Federal Way schools and as a director at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has centered on helping students who need it the most. As she notes, equity can’t merely be measured in the dollars doled out. Different students have different needs.
She hasn’t directly embraced charter schools, but she has a record of supporting innovation and different styles of learning. We hope she sees the value in what Spokane charters have achieved with students who struggled in traditional settings.
Jones has worked for the past two superintendents and watched the pendulum of student testing swing from too little to too much. Her goal is “short, sweet and usable” testing.
Chris Reykdal, of Tumwater, has served three terms in the state House of Representatives and is an administrator for Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. He’s also been a fiscal analyst for the state Senate and a high school history teacher.
Reykdal comes from a humble background and has a great appreciation for the opportunities provided by public education. He is smart, informed and has a solid administrative background. He would be a strong proponent for fully funding education, and he wants more useful student assessments, rather than high-stakes testing.
Reykdal has racked up the union endorsements, including that of the Washington Education Association. We’re concerned this could box him in when it comes to innovation and alternative learning methods. As a member of the House Education Committee, he voted against the bill that kept charter schools afloat.
Robin Fleming also identifies the achievement gap as the school system’s greatest challenge and has compelling insights into how student health plays a role. She began as a school nurse and became a teacher, researcher and curriculum creator before joining OSPI as the health services program administrator.
She says issues such as teacher-to-student ratio are meaningless if kids show up hungry or ailing. She emphasizes the importance of wrap-around services to student achievement.
Regardless of how the race turns out, we hope she continues to spread her message.
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