The three top candidates for Washington superintendent of public instruction have worked either for or with current Superintendent Randy Dorn, who is not seeking re-election.
A crowded field is vying to be Washington’s next superintendent of public instruction, but the three top candidates all bring something new to the contest.
The list includes a lawmaker and community-college administrator, an award-winning teacher and administrator, a school nurse who runs the school-health program across the state, and six others who mostly want to have their voices heard.
Incumbent Randy Dorn has decided not to seek re-election.
Chris Reykdal, who has represented Tumwater in the state Legislature for five years, would be the first superintendent in recent history with children in public school if elected.
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Erin Jones, who works for the Tacoma School District as a teaching coach and program administrator, is the first African-American woman to run for statewide office in Washington state.
Robin Fleming, who runs the health-services program for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), would be the first nurse to become superintendent of public instruction.
Only Reykdal, Jones and Fleming have raised more than a few hundred dollars for their campaigns, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission, although a fourth candidate who dropped out of the race also had raised thousands of dollars.
The field will be narrowed in the Aug. 2 state primary. The top two candidates will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.
The three leading candidates bring different approaches to the job held by Dorn for the past eight years. Dorn, a former lawmaker and union official, was hard to miss in Olympia and made sure his views were heard by lawmakers and the Washington Supreme Court, which decided in 2012 that the way the state pays for public schools was unconstitutional.
Fleming says she would leave the work of how to finish answering the Supreme Court’s so-called McCleary decision up to lawmakers and would not follow Dorn’s more bombastic approach, which was both criticized and praised.
Among those praising Dorn is Reykdal, who says the superintendent kept lawmakers on their toes while they were debating school finance. Reykdal said he expects he would continue to maintain an active role in the discussion about the McCleary decision.
Jones says she would fall somewhere in between: She would be a resource for the Legislature, while working to educate and encourage the citizens of Washington to push lawmakers to do the right thing about education funding.
All three have either worked for or with Dorn.
Jones, who testified in the McCleary trial as a teacher, says she has a unique perspective on the state’s education system because her children have experienced the inequity the school-funding lawsuit sought to fix. They were students at a high-poverty school in Tacoma and then at another Title I school that was dramatically overcrowded in Puyallup.
“My kids have experienced inequity. For me it’s personal,” she said, but she’s quick to point out the McCleary decision affects every citizen of Washington state. “We are all paying the price for inequity. It’s not just the kids and their families.”
Reykdal also would bring a parent’s perspective to the job, but while Jones’ kids are now adults, Reykdal’s children were in fourth and sixth grade this school year.
All three would like to pull back on the state’s commitment to student testing and not use the high-school exams as a graduation requirement, but they do not want to eliminate testing altogether. They want to increase the starting salaries for teachers and work to make the teacher-pay system more competitive statewide. And they think the estimated $3.5 billion to finish the work outlined in the McCleary decision is just a first step toward a more equitable school system.
Reykdal thinks the superintendent needs to be an education leader, informing policymakers and helping avoid debates — by lawmakers — on the theory and practice of education. He says OSPI should be used more as the research shop it is and actively provide the data lawmakers and school districts need.
“The superintendent can get a lot of the work done, make good policy recommendations and propose budgets that support those policies,” he said.
Fleming wants to see school equity defined more broadly, to include education for children with disabilities, more help for homeless kids and increased assistance for small, rural districts.
“There is so much wealth in this state,” Fleming said. She believes there should be plenty of money in Washington to bring equity back to the public-school system and help every school and every kid succeed.