The GOP primary race for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction began like a journey into the unknown.
Though the four vying for the position are all educators - a sharp turn from the tenure of Tom Luna - getting a bead on the candidates' current jobs and their positions on education issues have been both challenging and rewarding.
During the weeks since the March 14 candidate filing deadline, the process has revealed plenty about: John Eynon, Grangeville, a music teacher in the Cottonwood School District; Sherri Ybarra, Mountain Home, director of curriculum and federal programs in the Mountain Home School District; Randy Jensen, American Falls, principal of William Thomas Middle School; and Andy Grover, Melba, superintendent of the Melba School District.
The good news is that these are dedicated professionals who, win or lose in the May 20 primary and Nov. 4 general election, will continue championing and contributing to the success of Idaho students.
But only one can earn our endorsement to advance in the primary, and that's Grover, the lone superintendent in the bunch, who leads the 807-student Melba district in Canyon County.
Eynon's dislike for Common Core/Idaho Core Standards is a deal-breaker for us. We have consistently supported the new standards and see them as an integral part of Idaho education reforms and goals established by Gov. Butch Otter's Task Force on Improving Education.
The Gem State version has been in effect for nearly two years in some districts, and the Legislature endorsed the standards back in 2011. This is no time to retreat - even in the face of fixable issues regarding the testing methods that will be used to evaluate progress.
What's more, the Idaho Core Standards naysayers speak only of vague alternatives - and they deny that Idaho K-12 students need tougher standards to win seats in increasingly selective college entrance competitions and, later, in a global workforce.
Ybarra, Jensen and Grover are on board with the Idaho Core Standards and all have distinguished themselves as teachers and administrators.
So, we looked more closely at the big numbers and responsibilities of a big job: overseeing a $1.4 billion education budget; leading the education of 289,063 students in 115 school districts and charter schools; producing a budget for public schools; defining a public education agenda that can win the support of the Legislature; and serving on the State Board of Education and the Land Board, which administers state lands that benefit public schools.
Ybarra's answers about the need for political skills in the job left us cold: "I don't believe Idaho is looking for a politician." But the fact is, this job requires one. We predict a bright future for Ybarra. Her ideas and skills will flourish when she explores the political dynamics more deeply.
Jensen's stellar career has been parked for a long time in the principal's office. Though we appreciate Jensen's grounded wisdom, enthusiasm and natural ability to inspire kids, parents and teachers, he is untested at the superintendent level.
Grover is our choice in the primary because of his advanced supervisory experience, which includes being a regional representative for fellow superintendents. Our checklist of leading, budgeting and mentoring is complete. Grover sees opportunity instead of controversy with the Idaho Core Standards. He has led his district in that direction, and it is not a stretch to believe he can lead the state. We appreciate that he budgets time to mentor teachers, and budgets money well enough so that his district was able to avoid having to seek a supplemental levy this year. In Grover we see a calm, pragmatic educator and manager with political savvy who deserves to move on to the general election against Democrat Jana Jones.
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