As the general election fast approaches, the International Examiner sent a few questions to local election candidates. We will be posting their responses in a series of posts leading up to the election. Candidates are placed in alphabetical order and the International Examiner does not endorse any candidate.

Ballots have been sent out and the final day to return ballots is November 8 on election day. King County residents can drop off ballots at designated ballot boxes by 8 pm on election day, including one at Uwajimaya in the International District.

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Candidates for the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Erin Jones (left) and Chris Reykdal (right).

With the current Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn not seeking re-election, the job  opens for a new superintendent to usher in a transitional time for Washington schools. Erin Jones and Chris Reykdal are now fighting for the position having passed the primary election. Jones has worked in education for 23 years, focusing her most recent work on equity and student achievement, and previously spent four years working in the State Superintendent’s office. Reykdal currently serves as a state representative for the 22nd Legislative District. He’s worked on finances for government entities and in different capacities for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

International Examiner: What do you hope to accomplish as Superintendent of Public Instruction and why are you able to complete your goals?

Erin Jones: I hope to create a clearly articulated blueprint to help students and families move through the public education system. This blueprint/ roadmap will help school systems and the legislature make connections with critical organizations and agencies, as well as determine gaps that need to be filled in order to ensure all students receive the highest quality public education. In my last eight years as an administrator, I believe I have developed clear vision and strategic plans to drive my work and support those around me. I hope to do the same as the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. In every task I have been given in public education, I have met and exceeded my goals. I have been awarded for excellence at every level—Most Innovative Foreign Language Teacher (2007), Milken Educator of the Year (2008), White House Champion of Change (2013), PTA Educator of the Year (2015). I am committed to the same level of excellence in this role, as I have delivered in my previous levels.

Chris Reykdal: As Superintendent, I hope to ensure every Washington child receives a high quality education with equal opportunities to succeed. Our failure to address inequitable resources in our communities has led to the Opportunity Gap. Low income communities, and specifically, communities of color are systematically discriminated against in the way we fund schools, our inability to address poverty, our discipline policies, and our narrowing definition of how students demonstrate proficiency by use of standardized, often culturally biased, and generally English-only exams.

I will also focus my time on simplifying [our] excessive standardized testing system and restoring high-quality, 21st century vocation-technical programs to our schools. There has to be many pathways to graduation that does not compromise high standards, but does connect young people with careers they are passionate about.

I also hope to redesign how our teachers are compensated, the incentives we have for new teachers, how they keep up their certifications, and the amount of creativity they are able to have in their classrooms.  We need unprecedented incentives to get excellent educators to teach and stay in communities most in need.

IE: What issues do you believe affect students of Asian-Pacific islander descent and how do you plan to address these issues?

Jones: There are a variety of issues that the Asian-Pacific Islander community. There is the model minority stereotype that suggests all Asian students are academically superior to other students, which both create pressure for students and, on occasion, causes school systems to ignore academic needs. There is also the reality that different Asian and Pacific Islander communities have different experiences with public education….Another challenge is the lack of Asian and Pacific Islander representation in the education field. Our teaching force must represent the demographics of our student bodies.

There are four ways I hope to systematize the closing of opportunity gaps for all students, including Asian Pacific Islander students:

1) Recruitment, hiring, and retention of educators
2) Authentic family and community engagement
3) Meeting the needs of the whole child—intellectual, physical, social-emotional, cultural
4) Ensuring smooth transitions for students throughout the system.

Reykdal: As I previously mentioned, the Opportunity Gap remains prevalent and deeply [affects] students of color, including our students of Asian-Pacific Islander descent. A large part of closing the Opportunity Gap is diversifying leadership within our education system – from the top to the bottom. Our teachers, school board members, and leadership both at the district level and at OSPI should be as diverse as our classrooms.

Basing a child’s future off of one single standardized test will also no longer work. This [affects] students of color at a disproportionate rate. We need to use multiple measures to assess students relative to standards. Finally, we need to open up multiple pathways to graduation so that students who are passionate about career and technical education are not treated like failures just because they don’t have a passion for traditional listen and lecture courses. Every student should be given the opportunity to achieve their dreams.

To open doors for API communities, [Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction] and local schools must listen to the diverse voices in the API community. I attended the API Summit in Tacoma recently. It was magical to see folks representing over 100 countries and over 50 languages. The education system cannot truly support API students until that system recognizes the massive diversity within the API community.

IE: What is your stance on the McCleary versus State of Washington verdict and the actions by the state legislature to meet the requirements for “basic education?”

Jones: I testified in the McCleary case and was glad the Supreme Court recognized our state’s failure to “amply fund” basic education. Our state’s legislature has failed in its duty to fund public schools. They must be held accountable for this very important work.

Reykdal: I believe it is absolutely up to the state to fully and equitably fund basic education. Our State Constitution is very clear that this is THE paramount duty of the state! Every child deserves to receive a high-quality education, and it’s really tough for that to happen if schools are unable to buy the essential supplies, sports and arts equipment, pay for necessary remodels and hire staff provide the comprehensive programs and services to support the unique needs of every child.

The two bipartisan houses of our Legislature have not been able to come to an agreement on how to achieve the final steps in full funding. To date, about $2 billion has been invested. At least another $3.5 billion is needed in the short-term. I am the only candidate for State Superintendent who will be able to hit the ground running on this complex finance question. I have a graduate degree in public administration; I have almost two decades’ experience writing and configuring multi-billion-dollar budgets; and I have worked in the Legislature for the last six years, so I have great working relationships with the key legislators who will draft the McCleary solution. I plan to submit my own budget proposal, with revenue, to show our state can fund basic education in every school district in the state. I will deliver this budget to the Legislature and the Governor’s Office, and work with both until we can come to a final agreement.  I am committed to supporting decision makers with the critical data and research they need in finance and education policy.

[Editor’s note: The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the state was not meeting its constitutional duty to adequately fund education for primary and secondary schools. The court set a deadline for the beginning of the 2018 school year for the requirements for “basic education” to be met and the Legislature has yet to fulfill the court order.]

IE: Lastly, anything you’d like our readers to know (about you, your campaign, etc…)?

Jones: I am the first African American woman to run for statewide office, and won the primary. I was raised outside of this country, and understand the complexities of trying to work within the public education system here in the United States. I am fluent in four languages, and am committed to supporting ELL students, and also elevating multilingualism. I am the mother of three public school educated children, two of whom are now in college with one in the Army. My husband is also a public school teacher.

Reykdal: I grew up as the youngest of eight children to two parents who each had just an eighth grade education. My family struggled in poverty, and it was because of my public education that I was given the chance to succeed in life. This is what education is – the great equalizer. Every child, no matter their background or home language, should have that chance to succeed. My two children, Carter (12) and Kennedy (10), are both in public school right now. If I am elected, I would be the first Superintendent in nearly three decades to have kids in public school during my service.

I have dedicated my whole career to K-12 and higher education, during my work as a teacher, a school board member, a state representative (Vice-chair of the House Education Committee), and a budget and education policy executive for our state’s community and technical college system. I am passionate about this work, I live this work daily, and as I have always done, I will run through walls to do what is right for our kids.

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