My Take: Jones vs. Ybarra Debate at College of Idaho

The debate this evening in Caldwell was well attended, and had plenty of good questions and responses.  Some notables were in attendance including former Idaho Supt. Marilyn Howard.

I’ll write an analysis of my thoughts tomorrow.  For tonight, I’ll let the candidates speak for themselves.

Note: I wrote this in real time during the debate. I apologize if the writing isn’t quite as well thought out as my normal posts, but it is pretty tough to listen, type, and synthethize on the fly.

The debate was moderated by Jasper Licalzi.



Jones said “there is an education crisis in Idaho.”  She called for smaller class sizes,  a strong rigorous curriculum, and a pathway to prepare students for a career or college to help them succeed.  Most of all, she wants Idahoans to be proud of their schools again.

Ybarra stated that she wants to support a 21st century classroom including strong speaking, writing, and math skills.  She supports a safe school environment.  She advocates for a testing system that is more broad than a single snapshot in time.

On Idaho’s constitutional mandate

When Jones was asked if the state was fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a thorough and uniform system, Jones stated that many districts do not have the resources they need to provide the basic education program they need.  She emphasized that many districts are forced to pass levies because there are not enough resources to provide an education fairly or equitably across the state.  Jones  acknowledge that while she would not make the budget, she stated that if she were elected she would be an advocate to ensure the state fulfills its obligation to provide this constitutional mandate.

Ybarra stated that the superintendent does not make the budget.  She pointed out that 60% of the budget in Idaho is already set aside for education.  She acknowledged raising funding might be an option, but also stressed the need to find ways to make dollars spent more efficient.  She emphasized the need for providing an “adequate” education.

On Levies

Ybarra stated that 4 day school weeks and missing classroom resources are a problem.  She would advocate for the funds for an “adequate” educational program.  While this may be an increase in funding, it is equally important to make sure we are using dollars appropriately.

Jones stated that school levies were not commonplace a decade ago, and she worries about how commonplace they have become.  She stated she is fiscally conservative, and it’s important that we are accountable for using dollars to the very best of their abilities.

On making sure students are college/career ready

 Jones acknowledge the need for higher academic expectations, but also noted the need for “soft” skills such as work ethic, social skills, and speaking skills.  She stated that part of this involves including families as part of this process.  She pushed the idea that the teacher, alone, in the classroom cannot address these needs without assistance from a whole team outside.

Ybarra stated that the new content standards (CCSS) is part of the solution to getting students ready.  She also indicated that part of addressing the “whole child” involves including other “team members” outside of just the teacher in the classroom.  She said strong speaking, writing, and technological skills are part of getting a student ready for the 21st century workforce.

On Tiered Licensure

Ybarra stated tiered licensure is taking a step to improve teachers and teacher preparation, but it is important to message it correctly as not the end all be all answer.  She said expanding compensation is part of this process.

Jones pointed out that many districts have vacancies that they cannot fill and are force to higher student teachers and long term subs because there simply are no teachers willing to take the job.  She stated that we need to slow down on this tiered certification process, elevate the profession, and make teachers feel valued in the way that they are treated, valued, and compensated.

On student graduation rates

Jones said going on is important, but going on to what?  That might be college, but perhaps not.  That includes professional/technical careers including certifications and dual credit.  This allows them to move on without student debt or loans.  This also includes a choice to enter the military, a trade, or directly into employment.  She stressed the need for multiple options, not just a pipeline directly into college.

Ybarra stressed the need to look at the data itself.  She stated that it’s possible that the data might not be accurate because this data was tied to reading and math proficiency in labeling a school as making AYP (not sure if I caught the argument here). She said there is no a formula for calculating graduation rates because of problems with the old system. She said it’s important to make sure students have the opportunity to take college credit while in school to limit the financial burden.

On bullying

Ybarra said this boils done to safety and support, and should involve the whole community.  She pointed out technology has added to new forms of bullying.  She emphasized the need to provide preventative measures to help students feel safe.

Jones stated that there should be a curriculum all the way from elementary to high school to ensure that students and staff have clear guidelines on behavior that will not be tolerated.  Jones stated that two students in Idaho were bullied so harshly last year that it resulted in suicide, and this this is not acceptable.

On sitting on the state land board

Jones said that this seat is a very important position.  She pointed out that the constitution provides that parcels of land are set aside for the benefit of public schools.  She stated that the superintendent’s role is to make sure the land being used will have a long-term benefit for students and schools.  She emphasized the need to take a long-term view as the land needs to be usable in perpetually for both current and future students.

Ybarra also stressed the need to take a long-term viewpoint.  She pointed out that most of this money comes from the timber industry, and the need to listen to those groups to maximize the return.  She says it’s also important to listen to community members who are impacted by the use of the land.

On poverty and education

Ybarra pointed to her record in improving a “failing school” to a 4 star school despite poverty.  She pointed to the need to empower students, maintain a vision, and stretch dollars.  She says it is important to involve the community, but not necessarily by asking for more dollars.  She says that working with the community opens up dollars, and must involve teamwork.  She emphasized the need to work from the ground up, not the top down.

Jones pointed to the recent media articles that pointed out that Idaho has one of the lowest median incomes in the nation.  She emphasized that poverty can impact language development and language acquisition.  She said its important to provide opportunities to provide rich language development opportunities including strong intervention programs early in a student’s education.

On Technology

Jones called students “technology natives” and noted the need for technology to enhance education.  She also emphasized the need for students to have access to technology as much as the teachers.  She also stated the need for teachers to have professional development opportunities to learn how to use new technology.  We also must make sure we do not assume students have access to technology at home.  She emphasized that technology is not meant to replace teacher (Luna Laws), but are meant to support our high quality teachers.

Ybarra said that technology is integrated into the new common core standards.  She said we shouldn’t have technology just for the sake of technology, and some of the dollars might be better spent in a discretionary fund, instead of being mandated that districts spend the funds on technology tools.

On school counselors and social workers

Ybarra said that part of addressing the whole child includes making sure that there is proper guidance and counseling available for student in order to develop a plan for the student’s future.  She said that it is important to “budget for the future” and involve parents in this process.

Jones noted that some of the first staff to be cut as part of the budget shortfalls were counselors and career guidance workers.  She stated that it is important that we maximize resources such as tapping into medicaid funding for some social workers for certain students who qualify.  She also pointed to the connection between bullying and an absence of adequate counseling.

On the Arts in education

Jones noted that many students are excited for school purely because of opportunities to participate in the arts.  These programs need to be strengthened and expanded, not abandoned as has been happening with the budget cuts.

Ybarra said it is important to make sure we offer programs that keep students interested and engaged in school.  Part of this is including STEM opportunities.  She said part of addressing the whole child is making sure students have access to opportunities that help develop their personal identities.  She linked the arts to assisting in keeping students in school.

On Vocational Courses

Ybarra stated that Vocational courses help get students college and career ready.  Strengthening this program involves avoiding budget cuts in the future so schools can build and strengthen these programs.

Jones rebuked that teachers on a daily basis already address the whole child; it’s part of good teaching.  Jones told a story about a student who was able to earn part of her certification in high school, and finish her schooling (engine tech) at CWI.  She said that this is a success story that the state should continue expanding.

On giving bonuses to Dept. of Ed employees

Jones said that it is the prerogative of the Superintendent to hand them out.  However, she was critical the size of the bonuses when teachers have not had an increase in salaries, in fact have seen their salaries decrease, while State Ed employees received 10k bonuses.  She said this was in poor taste.

Ybarra said that she agrees in rewarding educators for their hard work; she said it is not her job to judge our current leader (Tom Luna) on his actions.  She said she does not think it is good policy to give bonuses to staff that are leaving their positions.  She said she would not have given these bonuses.

On interactions with the state legislature.

Ybarra said she has already started building relationships with the legislature, particularly JFAC and the education committees.  Ybarra says she has “great relationships with people” and wants to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Jones stressed that she already has experience in working with these committees and legislative members.  She stressed that she also has experience both in and out of the state in looking at programs, funding, and ideas.  She said she has existing relationships with legislators in leadership positions, and that this will help her be an effective superintendent.

On educational role-models.

Jones stated that a former college professor was a huge inspiration in motivating her and inspiring her to work with young people.  She said she taught her the importance of new learning everyday in the classroom.  She also recalled her first grade teacher as an example of how to be compassionate and loving with all students, even those with special needs.  She taught her how to be the teacher she wants to be.  She also pointed to former Idaho Superintendent, Dr. Marilyn Howard as empowering local districts to make choices that make sense for their community, not simply for the state.

Ybarra recalled an educator that helped her register to vote as being important.  Ybarra also stated that parents and church leaders are also educators.  She stressed the need for these people outside the classroom as being equally important in developing education.  She said teachers she worked with also help guide her as being important.

Concluding Remarks

Ybarra thanked the audience for the opportunity and respect they showed.  She said there is a stark difference between herself and Jones.  Ybarra noted that she has been in the trenches for the past decade, unlike Jones.  She said that she is a conservative leader with 20 years experience that Idaho is looking for to move the state forward.  She said the public deserves someone who is on the front lines.

Jones said we only get one chance to educate our kids, and we need to get it right.  She said that is not a democratic or republican value, but an Idaho value.  We need to build schools that parents feel good about sending their kids inside.  Schools that taxpayers feel are a great investment.  Schools that provide the resources needed to prepare students for future training, education, and employment.  She said trust has been lost in the position of superintendent.  She stated that she could be a strong education leader to make sure that education returns as a priority to the state.  She said she trusts local school boards to make decisions that are best for their own communities.


On a side note…Jones and Howard were kind enough to allow me this opportunity!






2 thoughts on “My Take: Jones vs. Ybarra Debate at College of Idaho

  1. Guest

    From my perspective Jana Jone spoke from experience, expertise, and heart whereas Sherri Ybarra seemed to speak in sound bites.

    As I listened to Sherri Ybarra speak, I couldn’t help but think…it sounds like she is wanting us to believe that if she is elected she will reverse much of what Mr. Luna and Mr. Otter along with their party liners have done to our public education system in Idaho.

    Even if Sherri Ybarra is sincere…I am reminded that we have been told many wonderful promises from Mr. Luna and Gov. Otter and their party liners during the campaigning seasons …only for them to do completely differently than what they promised once in office; manipulating and deceiving their constituents and ransacking the public education system.

    So…yes, I am very skeptical of this Republican candidate and her platform.



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