We have dedicated the space typically set aside for an update from the IEA President and Executive Director to a Question & Answer piece with Idaho’s new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Sherri Ybarra. We wanted to allow her an opportunity to introduce herself to our members, so we recently posed some questions pertinent to education in Idaho. We know that a strong working relationship with the State Department of Education benefits kids, teachers and schools, and the IEA is committed to building that relationship over the months ahead. Now, here is your chance to get to know your new state superintendent a bit better.
Q- Who is Sherri Ybarra? Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up and go to school? What can you tell us about your family? Are there other teachers in your family?
A- I grew up in West Virginia, where I attended the public school system. My father and mother were married young, and my father was a hard-working coal miner, who often worked long hours in dangerous conditions to support his family. My parents encouraged me all of my life to get my education. Until recently, I was the only teacher in my family. I have a cousin who just graduated this past May, with a B.A. in education. This is her first year as a high school English teacher.
I am married to a Federal Police Officer who works in Boise, and we have a son, who attends the public school system in Mountain Home.
Q- Who was your favorite teacher as a child? Why?
A- I give credit to my parents as being the first and favorite teacher(s). Without them, along with the voters of Idaho; I would not be in such a trusted position as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. They always encouraged me to put my education first and were constantly reminding me, “No matter how tough you think your life is at this very moment, keep resisting the urge to give up; because this moment in your life is only temporary; however, you will be in your future forever. So, get your education because not only is it the way out of poverty, it will also give you better opportunities and choices in your life.”
However, I did have a favorite classroom teacher: She was my third grade teacher, and her name was Miss Nadolski. She was my favorite because she knew I wanted to be a teacher someday, so she was always giving me stickers, old note pads, red ink pens, and chalk to “play school” with at home. She would also ask me to help her grade spelling papers, claiming it was a “second set of eyes” helping her. She was also sure to assign me as a tutor for my classmates, who might have needed extra help with reading or math assignments, so you know she was somebody who could make connections far beyond the classroom for me.
Q- What caused you to want to become a teacher? Of all the roles you’ve held in the education field, which job gave you the most satisfaction? Why?
A-I wanted to become a teacher because I liked the way it felt to watch others succeed. I loved it when my teacher would ask me to help a classmate with his or her assignments. So, I knew in or about the second grade that I was going to be a teacher and I never desired to be anything else. It was such a passion of mine while growing up– I spent countless hours making my two sisters, neighbors, cousins, best friends, and anybody else I could find— pretend to be my students –while I pretended to be the teacher. For Christmas I always asked for money to spend in a “Teacher Store” called Imperial Display, back in West Virginia. I would spend all of my Christmas and birthday money on stickers, workbooks, bulletin board decorations, stamps and markers!
Q- During the campaign, your theme was “Educating the Whole Child.” Can you tell us a bit more about what that means to you?
A-Educating the Whole Child is about addressing our students’ needs– as unique individuals. It’s about personalization in our educational system in Idaho. You can do this through supporting choices for our students, adopting a testing system that takes a motion picture of growth over time (versus just one snapshot in the day of the lives of our students). It also includes collaboration and coordination of community resources, more local control for spending that reflects the needs of our local communities, and eliminating a one-size fits all approach to education.
Q- Every educator knows that they can’t do their work in isolation; they need the support of others to be successful. If you could make one request of educators as you begin your new role, what would that be?
A-Because I was a classroom teacher for 11 years, I recognize they are the most important influence on a student’s success, which is why I trust them! I am someone who understands that the top-down approach has its place, but gathering information from professionals, parents and students, prior to a decision– is what really works, so I believe in leadership that works from the bottom up. As an educator myself, I have walked in their shoes for nearly the past two decades, and I am keenly aware of the challenges they face every day. Therefore, the one request I would make is to always advocate for what is best for Idaho’s students and keep that as guide– for all of their efforts and decision making. Winston Churchill said it best, “Never, never, never give up;” so, never give up on fighting to improve education in Idaho.
Q- Let’s fast forward four years. It’s 2018 and you’ve been carrying out your duties as Supt. of Public Instruction for the past 4 years. What has changed?
A-The priority for my administration is to provide the vision, the resources, and the support necessary to help ensure student achievement. The State Department of Education will be the agency that exemplifies a true service organization–to deliver the highest level of client satisfaction. Collaboration will be the norm, communication and discussion will be the way to solutions, respect will be nurtured, Idaho teachers will feel proud and appreciated, and business and commerce will come to Idaho because of our focus and dedication to Idaho’s educational system. As a result, all of our work will reflect those objectives and will have left education in a stronger position for future generations to come.